I am sure you have heard the expression “living into uncharted territory” since the beginning of the Corona Virus Pandemic.
I have been reflecting on what it means to live into uncharted territory and have been vividly reminded of my youthful years in college when I flourished in being in the wilderness!
My love for the wilderness had led me to join a group of colleagues in college. Together, we proposed and formed a college sponsored group called Rover Crew, that would allow us to hike the mountains and roam the national parks in Kenya using the college bucks.
One of the most impactful of these ventures was a program we called the “President’s Award” in which we were tested to the core through various activities like community work, track competition, essay writing, and ultimately a coordinated hike meant to test our navigation skills, teamwork, and endurance. The hike was a five-day and night venture in the Mua Hills or the Rift Valley’s, Mt Longonot area. I will not go into details of all the required aspects but what this unprecedented time brings to mind, is that we didn’t know what our paths were or where they headed. We were divided into teams of 5, each with a designated role in the team. We learned to rely on each other for survival in every way. We carried our food in our backpacks but had to cook it at the unknown destination every night and feed our guides. There were no stoves or running water and we had to figure where to get firewood, how to make the fire and where to fetch water.
Our guides held us accountable to getting to our various checkpoints along the hike, to cooking and to sleeping under the stars in sleeping bags. Only map coordinates were available for us to figure the routes in uncharted paths (remember this was pre- GPS!) Many times we got lost by taking the wrong routes or seeking directions from the wrong people and would end up taking twice as long to get to a designated checkpoint. Other times we miscalculated the coordinates and ended up at the wrong place, forcing us to retrace our steps to the correct checkpoint. Yet, frustrating as it sounds, I would never trade off this experience because it built so much of my personality and characteristics of resilience, endurance, teamwork, and the attitude to never give up! I was no longer the same person – I had tremendously grown and I approached life very differently.
Finding ourselves in the mire that we now call Covid 19 takes me back to this experience. It is unprecedented and so we do not have a clear map of what works effectively and what does not.
As leaders in our churches, we have had to engage in many online forums and platforms that we had somehow hesitated from engaging because they were not traditional or a necessity to us. We are having to learn new ways of doing church in such a short amount of time and stress is rising. Many times, even advice from others in ministry does not work for our varying contexts. One of the pastors told me that she told her congregation that if one more person came up with yet another new idea for her to apply, she would go crazy – because she was being bombarded by all these far-fetched ideas to do church. Well, the reality is there is almost a sense of liberation in worship affiliation, so that people are watching other churches. Any time they find something cool, they contact their pastor asking them to try what a certain church is doing, without realizing that their church may not have the capacity or platform to incorporate such new ideas. Learning ideas from one another is a great strength both as a connectional and an ecumenical church. But we must always analyze them for feasibility.
General Tips for doing Church during Covid 19
Though we do not have the clear map or paths to get us to the unknown place we are going, we have important coordinates that can be our guide as follows:
Church needs to happen. It is needed now more than ever – as evidenced by the number of people that are going to church websites, way beyond those that were worshiping with us before the pandemic. Even when our statistics tell us that some people sign in for just a few minutes into the website- that is an indicator that they are searching – most likely for answers. So, we need to strategically place ourselves where God can be found through us.
The church is not closed, it has just shifted to online. Hence worship, small groups, Bible studies, Pastoral care, justice and charitable ministries must continue. Our quest is to figure how to get to these coordinates in uncharted territory. Along these uncharted paths, we will find false leads, we will get lost and sometimes fail, we will feel frustrated or intimidated. But the good news is that we will come out the other end more resilient in our faith, having endured financial and technological strain, having learned how to rely on one another as teams to further Christ’s Gospel and with a sure attitude to never give up. The church of Christ is surely built on a solid foundation which does not shake when the rains pour. Matthew 7:24-27 is a great reminder of this fact that the church of Christ who has called us to service, is built on solid rock.
The church and its ministries cannot run on empty. We must not shy away from asking for ongoing funding just because there are no in-person meetings. Yet we must be sensitive to the fact that many of our members will have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 and may no longer have the capacity to give as they did. So, during this uncharted journey we have to figure what in our budgets can be shed without compromising our ability to spread the Gospel or our obligations and grace for people’s (members and staff) livelihoods. We must also figure out new ways of encouraging our congregations to give.
The Post Covid 19 church will not be the same church we have always known. We are in the process of creating a New Normal. Generally, critical situations change things rapidly to a certain peak, and then it begins to fall back to what was, but only to a certain plateau which becomes the new normal. No one knows for sure where that new normal will land and what the church will look like at that plateau. But we are part of writing the narrative of what that plateau will look like. Each of us is playing a role in writing that narrative. Some churches will survive because they were able to adjust their ways to connect and maintain memberships; others will give up on trying to keep up with the changing terrain and drastically lose members, may be even close; Yet others will thrive by embracing and seeking new ways of being so that they will grow exponentially not only in membership but in their impact to transform lives and communities.
What will be your contribution to the narrative we are writing towards our new normal?
Together, let us continue to make paths in uncharted territory, knowing we serve standing on the solid rock, Jesus the Christ!