What Lies Ahead

Hello, everyone, and welcome to this special Facebook Live installment, entitled, “What Lies Ahead.” This is an update on where we are now.

 

By Pastor John

So, where are we now? This has gone on long enough, right? Will we gather to worship soon? What lies ahead?

Dr. Mike Osterholm, University of Minnesota scientist and major source of guidance for our nation during this pandemic, has put it this way: this is the first inning of nine inning game. Others have said this isn’t merely a storm that will blow over, it’s a whole winter.

And then there is an article in the Praxis Journal, entitled, “Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup.” In it, they summarize their findings this way:

“The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to “get through” for a few days or weeks. Instead, we need to treat COVID-19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a “little ice age”—a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”

So, it doesn’t look like we’ll be worshiping in the sanctuary any time soon. Eventually, though—hopefully in the summer—we will start to gather again, but that will be incrementally, I’m sure. And rest assured, as soon as our leadership determines we can start bringing people back with proper social distancing, we will do so. But we will base everything on the best medical input and current data available, along with the ongoing conversation with bishops and other leaders.

In the meantime, we must innovate, make do, and look for new opportunities. And help each other as this drags on. There was a wonderful article by Dwight Zscheile recently which referenced research done by the Episcopal Church as they’ve worked with people all over the world helping them to deal with disasters. They identified that every group they’ve worked with in a disaster goes through an emotional process and stages of grief. Their findings are very relevant to our situation, I think.

The stages are pre-disaster, impact, heroic, honeymoon, disillusionment, grief, and reconstruction.

In pre-disaster we may not be taking it seriously. Our mood is relatively unchanged.

When a disaster hits, it’s called impact, and people are understandably alarmed and their spirits sag. That would be the middle of March, when things happened very suddenly and everything was cancelled.

But rather quickly, there’s a new stage, called the heroic stage: here’s where people dig in, make adjustments, and pull together. It’s called the heroic stage because people rally and experience a kind of “hey, we met this challenge and rose to the occasion!” This would be late March and early April.

This leads to a very brief stage called the honeymoon stage, where there is this sense of unity and cohesion with each other. Spirits remain strong because there is a feeling that “together, we can handle anything!” I don’t know, this was maybe mid-April.

But then we enter another stage, a longer stage: disillusionment. I think we’ve been in this one for a couple weeks. Our daily routines get old, we get tired and we’re ready to get back to normal. There’s just one problem, though. We can’t go back to normal. Not yet. Zscheile says, “We are no longer steeling ourselves for a looming crisis, or rallying together in a honeymoon phase, but working through the long unraveling of what was and trying to figure out what we have left. And as that knowledge sets in, we struggle to come to grips with the world that we now live in.” Some people engage in denial and try to move things back towards normal, but that carries a huge price tag. It will probably make things worse!

Others just feel depressed.

Eventually—hopefully sooner than later—people face the situation with a sober minded realism, and they enter the grief stage, as they come to terms with what’s been lost for now and maybe for a long time. But once folks can face their grief, they can begin the process upward toward a new future.

They can work towards the final stage, reconstruction. This is where you work together and make plans in light of the reality on the ground and discover some new and exciting possibilities. Theologically, this means learning to trust God’s promise of a future where life wins!

Well, do we believe that? I do, and I encourage you to as well. It doesn’t matter where we end up: God will find a way. Resurrection always wins! God specializes in working with a broken world, forging new life, new creations and expressions of community out of the ashes of what once was.

So, in the meantime, we must seek to remain faithful to our highest calling: to do everything we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our neighbor. That means listening to our medical experts about what we need to do what is necessary to keep flattening the curve of transmission of the virus. Wear masks, social distance, avoid enclosed areas with people, wash hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch your face. You want to know God’s will for your life? That’s it! Or, it’s a part of it.

But also, in the meantime, we will meet online in various groups, we will livestream worship. We will continue our mission to this neighborhood, by inviting people to participate online—which they are doing. We are engaging more people online than we did gathering people in our building, by the way. We will continue to explore new ways to do outreach—like our food distribution on Fridays, which has distributed 90 boxes of food so far, each box feeding a family of four for three days. And this sort of ministry gets noticed over time.

And, with the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us, we look to innovate and expand our reach. Paul Lathrop has been researching technological ways to enhance our worship and add new dimensions to our livestream. And we are already assuming that when people start coming back to our sanctuary, we will continue to livestream. We will also be exploring how to do virtual classes, so that people who have had a long day and have their hands full getting the kids settled down can still participate in a class that is online.

The bottom line is, Mt Carmel is no different than any church: we had to learn how to adapt to the 21st century anyway. Now we have to do it faster. Let’s equip our homebound members to participate electronically. Let’s figure out what our mission means in a digital age.

Last night our church council met, and one of the things we decided to do was to form a COVID-19 task force to start planning for the future. We will have expertise represented in communications, technology, medicine, finance, strategy and theology. And we will explore what we need to do to live into a future that is increasingly looking quite different than the past.

We need not be afraid, however. The God we worship has proven over time to be quite good at adapting to the ups and downs, the turns and twists of this fragile world. We are in good hands, friends.

“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of the Lord lasts forever.”

So, be safe, find pleasure in your blessings, and have faith in the God who promises to provide.

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