Conference Ministry Team
By Barry Bartel, Conference Minister Team Coordinator
“We need to find a new way of being/doing church!” Many have proclaimed this over the past three or four years. Yes, I meant years, not weeks or months. Younger generations yearn for something beyond the traditional, though it has not emerged naturally.
COVID-19 forced us to find a new way of being/doing church in the past few months. Congregations responded to forced physical separation in different ways, some focusing on the community aspect through Zoom worship and the interaction it enables, others focusing on ritual and liturgy with recorded services. New patterns emerged, with daily noon prayers by Zoom, Wednesday evening Zoom church, virtual game nights, puppet shows broadcast for the conference. Churches’ approaches continue to evolve as the time frame for separation is extended.
Pastors collaborated on a special service, devotionals were distributed, and many new things emerged. People Zoom in across geographic boundaries. Prayer concerns get shared more broadly and lead to broad support. Pastors in the conference and Conference Ministers around the country meet regularly like never before. And likewise, the inability to be together physically reinforces the need for touch and physical embrace, felt most acutely in accompanying the ill, grieving loss and mourning death, and celebrating special events.
No one thought a worldwide pandemic would force us into this, and it is difficult and uncomfortable. Yet these months are showing us that a new way of being church is possible! While we won’t discard the prior way of being church when the pandemic allows us to gather, we ought not squander this opportunity to stretch and grow and imagine something new.
Does this uncertainty also hold potential for re-shaping the mission of the church? While some people experience this time as a form of sabbatical, figuring out ways to stay engaged and not bored or depressed; some feel their livelihoods jeopardized; and others on the front lines feel more like triaging the wounded in a war zone. Those able to distance and wait proclaim that “we’re all in this together”, while the pandemic exposes the vulnerability of many people.
This deadly virus knows no racial or socioeconomic boundaries, and forces us to realize how all of our lives are intertwined with the immigrant in detention, with the homeless, with those without health insurance, with the hourly worker making barely enough to survive, with those harvesting and transporting crops near and far. Ironically, many marginalized members of society are suddenly and literally recognized as “essential”, resulting in higher risk of exposure and higher death rates. Has COVID-19 revealed something that compels the church to a new mission?
May we not simply long for things to return to “normal”. But may these uncertain times transform us and our church in ways we could not imagine and did not plan. That is my prayer. And might I suggest that we can draw inspiration from sources I hear regularly, from pastors’ creativity and also from leaders of ministries related to our conference: Mike Martin (RawTools), Todd Wynward (TiLT), Brenda Fox (PrayerStream), Sarah Jackson (Casa de Paz), Corbin Graber (Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp), and Cole Chandler (Colorado Village Collaborative).
ZING! May ● June 2020