Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
As my time with you as your Pastor begins to draw to a close, I believe it is important for us to consider what we have accomplished together in the mission that God entrusted to us over the course of these two years and some months.
This season of the church’s history that we have shared has been marked and marred by the realities of the global pandemic. The pandemic was declared shortly after I accepted the call to Resurrection Church in March of 2020, and the pandemic continues even now midway through 2022. While the pandemic’s strictures have inhibited and even prohibited anything approaching a normal churchly routine, certainly one of our major accomplishments is that we have in fact creatively endeavored to be and to do church amidst all of the unprecedented upheaval of these years. This is no small achievement!
While our routines were severely constricted by the pandemic, we nonetheless managed to engage in the usual dimensions of congregational life – worshiping, enjoying occasions for socializing, offering pastoral care, doing the administrative work of the church, and attending to social ministry through generous giving to local and national and international organizations which seek to help those most in need. These expressions of congregational life were not in the fullness of what we are used to, but they did not totally disappear amidst the pandemic.
Central to our life together, of course, is the Sunday worshiping assembly. From March of 2020 until July of 2021 – 16 months – we did not meet for worship in person in our nave, which removed the foundational pillar of what it is to be and to do church. And yet, we found our way, first with the creation of resources for worship at home, not seeking to replicate remotely what we do in the nave on Sundays, but promoting worshipful devotion at home among those with whom we live. This also soon included the crafting of videos intended to complement worship at home, featuring sermons which I recorded often from the dining room of the parsonage, and members reading the appointed lectionary passages and leading prayers from their homes, and Barbara and choir members leading congregational song, even choir anthems which were woven together digitally, creating a unified sound from multiple individual voices, and all of this edited into a seamless whole by our youthful videographers.
Then there was our worship outdoors in conjunction with the bi-weekly gathering of food items for the hungry and food insecure. What started as brief, informal prayer evolved into more complete forms of worship outdoors offered weekly. We started on the Potomac Street side of the church, where our Memorial Garden became a focal point, for example, for abbreviated liturgies during the Three Days of Holy Week. We eventually moved to the Powhatan Street side of the church where the parsonage deck served as chancel, the new brick patio as choir loft, the fence between the parsonage and church yards served as altar rail and the church yard became a nave surrounding our community garden. Here we celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in over a year on the Day of Pentecost in 2021. Finally, on July 4, 2021 we moved back indoors for Sunday worship, masked and physically-distanced, practices which we maintain to this day.
The move indoors also began the initiative of live-streaming our Sunday worship for those unable to be with us in person, increasing our presence in the world of cyberspace. Before the pandemic, Resurrection Church’s footprint in the digital world was modest, focused on our website. Because of the various worship videos which are still available on YouTube, our congregation’s presence online is now more substantial. Some, in fact, have begun to find their way to our congregation because of that presence.
Additionally, our worship and music practices did not remain static during these pandemic years. We engaged in a discernment process which resulted in hiring as our regular Director Music, Barbara Verdile, who had served as our interim organist and choir director. We also purchased, through the generosity of anonymous donors and Memorial funds, and are regularly making use of the new supplement to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, All Creation Sings. Resurrection Church remains uniquely current among other ELCA congregations in my experience in its full use of the many resources for worship available from our wider church. This is truly a hallmark of our life together.
Moving on to other aspects of our life together – who would ever have predicted before the pandemic that Zoom would become such a feature of our congregational life? And yet it has. Even as we have returned to worshiping in person in doors on Sundays, so much of the rest of our congregational life is still undertaken via Zoom – committee and Council meetings, and even our annual meetings, bible studies, as well as midweek worship during Advent and Lent. Such Zoom practices don’t seem to be going away. It may be that Zoom is now a feature of our life together. The Zoom platform has arguably increased numbers who attend bible study and midweek worship. It’s not the same as being in person, but increased participation because of Zoom is a dynamic that we should not discount. Zoom also makes life easier in terms of commuting to and from church, especially for brief meetings. We’ve even begun experimenting with hybrid forms of gathering, with some in person at the church and others participating at home.
Another central aspect of church life is Christian education and faith formation. What started as a pandemic-induced attempt regularly to reach out to members, these weekly Midweek Messages have become one of the significant expressions of my teaching ministry as a pastor. Early on when I began crafting these reflections, I wondered if I would have topics enough to write about each week. But as time wore on, I have found it a marvel that I have never lacked for topics and themes of various sorts to address! I pray that those who have read these messages have found them to be edifying, helpful, and perhaps sometimes inspiring and important to our life together.
Then there have been the various bible studies via Zoom, addressing several different topics over the course of our time together. A major focus of our faith formation efforts has been our attempts to convene all ages together – for bible study via Zoom, and then also monthly outdoors at the parsonage for various creative programs. Children’s Ministry Director, Angie Brook, and Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, have continued creatively their ministries, again, largely online in these years. My prayer is that approaches to Christian education and faith formation which include all ages of people together would continue in future months and years, for one might argue that it takes a village to raise up mature persons of faith.
I could go on, and in fact, I will next week when I intend to summarize other hallmarks of our life together as a congregation during my brief pastorate. But I pray that these summarizing thoughts begin to give you a sense of the bigger picture of what we have accomplished together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
With abiding appreciation in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,
Pastor Jonathan Linman