After the Pandemic
“The Church is open, even when the church is closed.” We in the Episcopal Church in Delaware have found that nothing, not even a pandemic, can keep the love of God in Jesus Christ from being present and real. That’s a powerful learning!
Plans for how we re-emerge from stay-at-home rules are already in place. We will come back with new skills, new appreciation of how we are “body”, and new challenges. What will our return as church look like? What challenges will it bring? What even newer skills will be needed?
Our experiences during this time of pandemic, with all its anxieties, pain, sadness, and death, are the source material for new witness, new stories of faithfulness. Perhaps out of this wehere in the Episcopal Church of Delaware will find new ways to practice resurrection.
Here are some notes on possibilities, hopes and predictions for the future of the Episcopal Church in Delaware, “The new Episcopal Church”. They may apply also to the whole church.
“Following,” and that interesting new verb, “friending” aresecular ideas close to the ideas. guiding the “Invite, welcome, connect” evangelism program that was under way all those months ago before the pandemic. What might “invite, welcome, connect” look like as we engage“friending” and “following”? And what will happen when we see cyberspace as yet a another place to which we are called to proclaim new life?
Because we are an episcopal church, with bishops who connect us to the apostolic traditions, those laboratories (the parishes) will need to work with supervision so that we keep the core of our faith on a steady footing. At the same time those laboratory experiments will be vital to our becoming new. The trick is to be nimble without breaking the china. We will need to nurture nimbleness in our clergy and lay leaders, and in our bishops in particular.
They are also most like the communities that first gathered who “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”. (Acts2:42) Eucharist in small group settings will present many theological and pastoral challenges, but such eucharistic gatherings will be essential, for these small contained communities are the core of our own “virus” whose spread continues the Christian witness in the world.
Smaller churches already know a lot about how to be a faith community without large services, multi-person staff, full music programs, and the like. Clergy and lay leaders in these churches in Delaware have found ways to bring the gifts of The Episcopal Church to their communities. Their experience can help us be present in ways that don’t require edifices, large staffs, and extensive programming.
We will have to raise up a new clergy, who will help small communities be the place of incarnation of Word and Sacrament, and who will understand ministry to be the work of all the people, and themselves as servants of that work. To a much greater extent than now the ordainedministers of the Gospel will be itinerant and have other means of livelihood.
If the church becomes leaner it will be possible for the closing of church buildings to be separate from and unrelated to the health of a local eucharistic community. Instead of our “roster”of churches becoming smaller as church buildings are closed and sold, we will count our presence as Eucharistic communities, many of which will consist of small “cell” communities joined as possible by occasional larger gatherings. That roster might grow! The bishop and clergy will be essential “glue” that keeps these communities together as part of the greater body of Christ.
Small a groups of all sorts already exist in our churches -bible study group, ECW, singing groups (a choir), contemplative prayer groups, pastoral care committees, etc. If they are also nurtured as beloved communities, in which there is “the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” they each are a manifestation of church. Together with small gatherings of people in the cities and towns concerned with basic human rights and needs the church small groups will make alliances for the social good and thus the beloved community will always be larger than the church itself, broader in reach than The Episcopal Church, and more resilient than any of the groups by themselves might be.
We will know Church is not a product of the powers of this world alone, where size, wealth, territory and possessions matter most. The Church is the manifestation of the beloved community, for which there are no limits, save Love. And that is our future.