“My gut tells me underlying motives are at work here that are not being shared!” In the past month, I have heard several variations on this statement in online gatherings. Mistrust has become more prevalent and is giving birth to interpersonal conflict—in a time when we have less personal resilience to cope with it. We need to take greater care when we attribute motives for another’s actions in this precarious season.
The coronavirus is horrifying, and sometimes it feels that congregations are not doing their best to meet the challenge. But there are signs that God is at work, helping us to learn and to transform ourselves.
Two conversations I have had with clergy recently led me to ponder some of the undercurrents of doing ministry during this pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty we are now swimming in. I was reminded of how important it can be to show up for each other.
It is too soon to create a definitive list of all the things we will have learned from this pandemic, but I’m clear about one thing—John Kotter was right that urgency does drive change. Under pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic and outrage over police violence against black people, congregations have made changes I thought I would never see. Will we be able to continue innovating when extreme urgency no longer forces us to do so?
Many phrases commonly used to describe the coronavirus pandemic have revolutionary overtones. Covid-19 is the “great disruptor,” the “medical disaster,” and the “economic catastrophe.” Writers assert that Covid-19 “will change the workplace forever,” arguing that its effects are both “global” and “enduring.” Reporting on the wave of unrest sparked by police killings of unarmed African Americans carries similar tones. Reporters describe the scope of the unrest as “unprecedented,” while the level of polarization in the country is “historic.”
We have been reactive. How else can one be during a pandemic? The opinions of outside experts have guided our actions since this all began, and their positions change daily. When to close, how to take church online, protocols to follow before opening. Now, things are slowing down a bit and it is time to become more reflective—tapping into our own wisdom and exploring the potent learning opportunities at hand. The shift begins by asking better questions.
Once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, I am convinced that more will remain the same than change in congregational life. People have gathered to worship, study, and support each other for centuries in the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and other religious traditions. Congregations have continued their core practices through pandemics, depressions, and wars. After each time of travail, more stayed the same than changed. History tells us to be careful when predicting cosmic change for congregations, even with something as huge as COVID.