When physical distancing was first suggested in March, the hope was that our COVID-19 metrics would peak by the end of July. Sadly, this is not the case. Infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in our own state as well as our nation. Now the hope is that North Carolina will peak in mid to late September. Yet, this is only the peak, not the end of infections. Vaccines are in various stages of trials, and we all hope they will be effective against the virus. However, their full effect will not be felt for a while.
As I reflect on this situation, I am reminded of the multi-step process of disaster recovery. After a major event, normalcy doesn’t return quickly, but in a series of steps. First there is the assessment of the damage and the immediate question of what to do next. Usually that means some quick, temporary fix. From this, there is a move to a longer transitional phase. Only after much time is there the resumption of a long-term solution. While all of these stages required adaptation and effort, it seems that the middle stage is the hardest to maintain. There is adrenaline that keeps us going at first. There is joy in settling into the new normal at the last. But keeping hope alive along with the energy necessary for endurance in a state of transition is not easy.
So, as we enter into month five of the COVID-19 crisis, I offer some words of encouragement and praise.
At the very end of this week’s lectionary gospel reading (Matthew 13:51-52), Jesus states that those trained for the kingdom of heaven are like those who bring out of their treasure what is new and what is old. As we settle into the transitional phase of this pandemic, it has been my joy to hear the creativity of pastors and congregations. Some old practices are bearing fruit. Many new methods are making our work and witness broader and even more effective.
Once fiercely independent congregations have discovered the blessing of working together. In some areas, joint worship services and Bible studies that once seemed impossible have arisen. Many faithful members have continued to contribute to the work of Christ through their offerings, even when they have not seen in the inside of the building for several months. Pastors have unleashed creativity in worship that typically would have been stifled. (Some things have worked better than others, but wasn’t it fun to try!)
Congregations have discovered new (and old) ways of caring for each other. Those who are isolated due to lack of technology, illness or concern for health are being connected in a variety ways: lay persons making pastoral calls, front porch visits (with proper distancing), one or two choir members making caroling-like visits to sing a few lines of hymns (outside and with social distancing … a theme is arising), letters being written, regular phone calls being made. Pastors and laity are in partnership in the caring ministry of the church.
Deep theological discussion have been shared with both pastoral colleagues and with laity about weighty matters like the essentials of worship and sacramental theology. Where once churches wondered why communion was celebrated more than quarterly, they now long for the Eucharist. Many churches who have lagged in technology have found ways to reach out to members and the wider world through online engagement. (Who knew that IT classes would be as important as Christian Theology in seminary?)
Missional outreach has continued in a great variety of ways. Food pantries – both collection and distribution – have risen to the occasion. Churches have shared words of support for black and brown communities and many are beginning to assess their role in both the problem and the solution. Some congregations have made pilgrimages to offer encouragement for medical personnel and essential workers at congregant living facilities.
This article has turned out much longer than anticipated (don’t you hate long-winded preachers). Yet it is not nearly long enough to express appreciation and celebration for the great work the pastors and churches of the Corridor District are doing. May God bless you in your labors and offer fulfillment through your service.
Rev. Mike Frese
Corridor District Superintendent
If you would like to view past messages from DS Mike Frese, follow this link: