One year into this pandemic, I’m just now coming to terms with some of the spiritual implications. I’ve been impressed with the creative writers who produced book-length meditations during the pandemic. Myself, for the most part I was lower on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, taking naps and addressing survival issues in our community.
But I am starting to see a few things more clearly. One is obvious: we’ve had a ton of people join our church during the pandemic (seventy new members at Easter), but we’re also seeing some departures.
My main reflection now is quite simple: I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen.
First of all, on a very practical level everyone’s re-evaluating how they want to do events and community these days. Do we really all want to go back to four nights a week on the soccer fields, or long interminable evening committee meetings?
But also during the pandemic, we saw massive swings in political perspectives and cultural affiliations. Some people chased Q down the cult spiral. Others woke up in new ways to the needs of the marginalized.
And a lot of this was related to religion and the church. You couldn’t miss the fact that in the traitorous attack on our nation’s capitol by Trump supporters, drummed up by Trump himself, there were crosses mixed in with the blue lives matter flags.
Recently Pew reported that church membership dropped below the majority in nearly a century, and my basic response, as the pastor of a church was, “Finally! Thank God!”
I mean, why would anyone belong to an organization that taught its members that their personal “rights” and religious freedoms were more important than neighbor love?
Who thinks membership in an organization that centers propaganda against something as simple as masks should have a majority stake in our national life?
So I for one welcome the major shift that has already been occurring in religious affiliation in the United States, and pray it accelerates. The faster a religion of racism, sexism, and homophobia can die off in our nation, the better.
But I also subscribe to two very simple dictums:
- The abuse of something does not disallow its appropriate use.
- The way of Jesus is often not the way of the contemporary church, and returning to Jesus is an ongoing movement.
So, just because the majority of Christians have corrupted Christianity almost beyond recognizability into a kind of Christian nationalism and inndividualistic hate machine does not mean authentic forms of Christianity cannot or should not exist.
You can find church in the way of Jesus, and when you find it, it’s holy and sacred and transformative.
And just because some of these doctrinaire stakeholders in positions of power think there’s is the one and only true way doesn’t mean they have a solid understanding of God’s love or the way of Jesus.
Returning to life in the local church, I imagine as we return to church life a bit more as in-person assembly, we are going to see more and more people make some intentional shifts. They did a bit of self-reflection during the pandemic, in-between naps and survival and Zoom meetings, and they’ve come to the conclusion they want to be a part of the churches or communities who figured out how to truly be the church during the pandemic.
The ones who served. The selfless ones. The creative ones who ran toward disaster rather than retreated from it.
The ones who learned from that calling how they want to exist now in new and different ways.
I ran across this quote from the Selected Works of Audre Lorde (it is National Lesbian Day of Visibility, after all) that I think really speaks to this moment:
Possibility is neither forever nor instant. It is not easy to sustain belief in its efficacy. We can sometimes work long and hard to establish one beachhead of real resistance to the deaths we are expected to live, only to have that beachhead assaulted or threatened by those canards we have been socialized to fear, or by the withdrawal of those approvals that we have been warned to seek for safety.”
Churches in the way of Jesus that thrived or survived the last year have, I suspect, established one or a couple of beachheads of real resistance to the deaths we are supposed to live.
The death of scapegoating young Trans people. The death of suppressing voters. The real and daily death at the hands of police and gun violence.
It’s even possible many in the church will take this moment, when they’ve already been in flux, to move on elsewhere, and on the way out the door launch those final assaults and threats, those canards, we have been socialized to fear.
“I can’t believe you’re a pastor.” “You’re church is doing what?!”
These are uncharted waters. Something new and vital and holy is being borne, and that never happens without struggle.
Church will never be the same again, because it was only ever held together moment by moment in the Spirit anyway, and it’s a miracle moment by moment that She continues to do so.
Church will never be the same again, and that’s just fine, because everything really will be fine.
Church will never be the same again, and thank God.
Church will never be the same again, because the way you remember it can never be repeated anyway.
Church will never be the same again, because Jesus is like that. They move.
And they move precisely toward and to be with those the church in its continuing lack of faithfulness often attacks.