You've heard that it was said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." That old saying has never felt more true. It comes from an epigram in the journal of 19th-century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," literally "the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing." These words ring in my ears lately. The more things change (schools systems making varying decisions about how to start the fall term, daily reported COVID-19 case numbers, etc.), the more they just keep being the same (many folks still at home, we still need to wear masks, the news seems to report the same outline of stories each night, etc.).
In fact, things are not the same. We are faced with important decisions with long-term consequences much more often than we were 6 months ago. You are making decisions about your retirement plan, where you are living, where you are working, how to parent your children, how to be responsible and supportive adult children for your aging parents, whether or not to go on a vacation (time away has long good long-term influence on your future and outlook!), whether or not to go to the pool, whether or not to visit the new neighborhood Kroger (as I write this, I am anxiously anticipating the opening of the new Kroger in less than 24 hours!) because there might be a large crowd there on opening day. The longer this virus stays active among us and continues to infect large numbers of people, the longer we continue to stay at home when possible, wear masks to protect others, continue to keep our church building closed, and wait for something to change. We wonder what the future holds for our jobs, our families, our friends, our church.
This week I read an article by Carey Nieuwhof titled, "The New Characteristics of Churches That Will Be in Decline Five Years from Now": These are the characteristics Nieuwhof listed:
1. The Leaders Bet Everything On A Physical Return To Church
2. Success Is Still Measured By The Number Of People Who Attend Physical Locations
3. Online Ministry Is Seen As An Afterthought Or Lesser Form
4. All Feedback Comes From Their Echo Chamber
5. They Quickly Went Back To 3 Songs And A Message As Their Service Formats
6. The Church Building, Not The Home Or Community, Was Re-Established As The Sole Locus Of Ministry
7. The Leaders Excluded Gen Z From The Inner Leadership Circle
I find wisdom in this list. I also find challenge. I hope you have given some prayer and thought during the last five months to how we can differently live out the ministry to which we are called as a church. Right now we have to; in the future, we will need to in order to continue to breathe life into the church of Jesus Christ. There are things about the way we "did church" prior to March of this year that were reflective and deeply enriching. There were also ways we did things that were easy and predictable. We are starting to scratch the surface of new ways of being and doing church now with virtual worship, creative children's and youth ministry, online small groups, and even community events via zoom. There will be more, and I won't like all the new things we'll do together in the future because they are different. But more than I love even my favorite hymns, I love God and I love the faith I've been given through Jesus Christ, and I love the Church. And I love you. And I love this community--many of whom need to know that Embry Hills UMC is not JUST a place but also a loving, creative, welcoming group of people who want to serve and grow alongside them.
As much as we love ours, we have learned that we don't need a building to be the Body of Christ. We need each other, we need prayer, we need to reflect on and study the word of God, and we need to listen to what God is asking us to do and be right now. So I'm going to be on the lookout for Gen Zers (I'm GenX, so I think GenZers and I may strike up a beautiful friendship!). I'm committed to continuing online ministry no matter when we begin to regather on our property. I'm giving a lot of thought and prayer to what worship will look and feel like when we are able to re-gather. I want your feedback, even and especially when we don't agree. And I am praying for and about new ideas to establish the locus of our ministry beyond the walls of 3304 Henderson Mill Road.
What new ways of being the church do you dream about?