Ready for Fall!
This Sunday is Homecoming Sunday at Woodmont! Summer is quickly drawing to a close, school is back, and we are now ready for fall kickoff. I feel renewed and refreshed after a sabbatical and I’m looking forward to seeing all of you. Our children will move up to their next grade level and fall programming will kick off.
We have decided to hold off on our children’s moment until after Labor Day because of the rise in Covid cases. Parents will continue to take children straight to their classrooms before worship. I will begin a new sermon series called “Tough Questions of Faith.” We will be wrestling with many of the challenging questions that Jesus asks in the gospels.
My friend and fellow minister Mike Glenn recently wrote an excellent blog titled, “Things Will Never Be Normal – and That’s OK.” Mike is a veteran pastor who has basically seen it all over the years. I value his friendship, wisdom, and insight. In the blog, he talks about three different groups within the church right now. First is the group who is never coming back. They were nominally committed to begin with and have since moved on to other things. The second group consists of those who like online worship because of its convenience. They wake up Sunday morning, fix their coffee, keep their pajamas on, and watch church from the couch. You can show up late or turn it off after the message is over. It’s easy, comfortable, but certainly better than no church at all. The third group he identifies is still on vacation – the beach, mountains, lake, or perhaps just a vacation from church as they used to know it.
Glenn argues that attendance in local churches will not go back to pre-pandemic levels, and ministers who have always measured the success of their congregation by attendance need to find new metrics of vitality. Covid has clearly disrupted organized religion as we have known it and has expedited secularization in North America.
Here’s what hasn’t changed: people are still spiritually hungry, restless, anxious, and they long for an authentic community. The pandemic has exacerbated all kinds of other problems – fear, marital challenges, addiction, alcoholism, depression, education inequality, poverty, and a growing sense of social isolation. These are the issues that don’t get talked about nearly as much as the delta variant, mask mandates, and vaccination rates.
Glenn argues that Covid didn’t really break anything, but it showed us what was already broken and ineffective in our churches. Now is the time for authentic leadership, innovation, and new ideas. Certain sacred cows will need to die. Blame the pandemic.
At this point, nobody really cares how you interpret the Nicene Creed, whether you prefer traditional or contemporary worship, if you’ve read Leviticus, or how often you think communion should be served. What they care about is transformation, relationships, connection, and spiritual growth. Churches that refuse to change and try new things may not make it. The seven last words of the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
The message of Christ is still needed: a message of hope, peace, love, service, and compassion. It’s a message that challenges us to move beyond self and live for others. According to Jonathan Sacks, “When the ‘I’ takes precedence over the ‘We’, the result is weakened relationships, marriages, families, communities, neighborhoods, congregations, charities, regions, and entire societies,” For Sacks, a shared moral code and sense of community have been lacking for some time, and frankly, the fear and disruption of the pandemic has not helped.
Right now, we all need hope, encouragement, and purpose. We need to stop fighting over masks and actually listen to each other. We all need to believe that we are in this together and not simply left to survive on our own.
Life is about more than just making it from one day to the next. That leads to exhaustion and cynicism. Meaning comes when we work to make life better for others and we sacrifice on their behalf. Meaning comes when we invest in our core relationships, connect with others on a deeper level, show some vulnerability, and share both the joys and sorrows along the way. Things may never be “normal” but opportunities are there. Let’s recommit to being the church together.
See you Sunday!
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