After the Pandemic
When we stopped in-person worship a year ago, I, like others, adapted to working from home and learned to use new technology. Before the pandemic, I had never heard of Zoom; now it has taken over my daily life, and I dread it, while being thankful for how it enables me to stay connected with others. Every Sunday, for example, I log in to online worship at various parishes in the diocese. But while I appreciate virtual worship during the pandemic, it is no replacement for in-person Eucharistic worship and the sharing of the Body and Blood in community—nor for parish visitations which allow me to maintain real, not virtual, connections with the clergy and the people.
Most of our parishes have adapted well to technology. Many have seen a surge in the number of people joining their online worship, some reporting hundreds or even thousands from all over the country and the world. Even after COVID, I imagine that many will continue to livestream their in-person congregational worship. Some churches have also used online tools to build small groups and provide pastoral care.
But as we try to re-envision Church beyond the pandemic, a lot is unknown. Will we see our churches full of people? Or will we see more empty pews with people opting to log in for worship? Most, I suspect, will be searching post-pandemic for a deeper meaning of faith and life, as they did in the aftermath of 9/11. As then, we may see a surge of people for a few months and then the numbers gradually waning. What do we need to do differently this time? How can our churches be communities of genuine healing and restoration that can truly transform people’s lives? How we welcome people back to church and engage them in their spiritual search will be critically important. Now is the time to prepare and get ready for that.
I recently participated in a conversation on this topic facilitated by the Episcopal Church’s Church Planting and Redevelopment Office, who have identified four essential gifts of and hopes for the Episcopal Church: a sacramental community that nurtures belovedness; a community on a pilgrimage of deep faith development; worship as mission and mission as worship; and mutuality with the neighboring community. Between these four essential gifts, community is clearly the common theme: how then should we reimagine and reshape our ministries so that they help us build a truly beloved community? What must we continue doing and what must we abandon so that these essential gifts can help us adapt to new challenges and become thriving congregations? Perhaps the most important question is how can the parishes of this diocese better collaborate in mutuality and not remain siloed and inwardly focused? It worries me when clergy and lay leaders are isolated, never talking to leaders of other parishes and with no interest in what is happening in the diocese. We are one diocese with one common mission, and Church has no other mission than God’s mission—the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.