"May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us."
Saint Teresa of Ávila (16th Century)
I was in a meeting a while ago when one person (kudos to Mark) stated that we’ve been talking about change being needed in the church for years, but little if anything has changed. Then along comes this virus and suddenly we change things almost overnight. He lamented that for all those years of talk, we had been ignoring the Holy Spirit, yet we sit up and pay attention to a virus.
I can certainly appreciate his frustration! And on one level I am completely in agreement. However, I’m also prepared to embrace a more positive and (hopefully) faith-filled response.
The years - decades, even - of talking about change in the church have indeed led to great frustration. I have heard that expressed and felt it myself time and again over the last three months and longer. Those years, however, have led to an increased hunger and readiness for change. They have also added to the sense of urgency. We have known for a very long time that if nothing changes in the church, we will continue the trajectory we seem to be on of declining numbers and an ageing profile. We will continue to have little perceived relevance to younger generations, and to the broader community. Our major dilemma seems to have been that we simply don’t know what the change needs to be. Hence, we keep talking about it.
All of a sudden, we were forced into changing how we do our normal things (gathering, worship, pastoral practice, outreach, mission activities, …) and we had to change very fast. I remember the last Sunday I sat in worship wondering if we would be able to gather the next Sunday, and what that would mean for us all. We weren’t allowed to gather, and it meant we had to worship in a different way. It left the congregation’s leadership scrambling - deciding what they could do, how they would do it, and how they would get the message out to the congregation so all could join in. And it happened! Not only in the congregation with whom I worship, it happened across our Presbytery, across the Synod, across the country.
We made these changes because of a virus, but we made them in the power of the Holy Spirit!
If you follow the liturgical calendar, you will know that we have just celebrated Pentecost, recalling that the Holy Spirit, the Helper Jesus promised to send, came and rested on the disciples and stirred them into action. After this Sunday (when we wrestle with the seemingly ungraspable nature of Trinity) we will be entering into a long season of “Ordinary Time” that will take us through to the celebration of Christ the King leading us into Advent. “Ordinary Time” is anything but ordinary! With its liturgical colour of green, it is a season in our church year when we look for new signs of life and growth. It is a time when we are nurtured as the people of God, and encouraged in our own discipleship in the world.
This is certainly no season - either in our liturgical calendar or through the restrictions we are still facing - to sit back and rest thinking that God will turn up when we can re-turn to “normal.” God has turned up, God is at work: in us and through us in the world. The Holy Spirit is leading us in the changes we have needed to make, not just because we’ve had to respond to the guidelines and restrictions around COVID-19, also because as a church we have needed to change.
I do not for a moment think that God ‘caused’ this virus to emerge and travel around the world in the way it is doing. However, I do believe very firmly that God is moving and working through this time, and through the people who allow God to live and breathe and work in them. In us and through us, the Holy Spirit is bringing the life and hope that the world needs to know — for all people and for all of creation. “Ordinary Time” is not normal. There is no normal, unless it becomes normal for us to follow wherever the Spirit leads us. Oh! May it be so!
Blessings and peace,