I write this letter on the twelfth day of Christmas, which means that I’ll be taking down most of our Christmas decorations tonight. Dave Allen Grady and I “discuss” the timeline every year about when to take our tree down—and when to put it up, for that matter. His preference is to have it up as soon as possible and to leave it up until the Feast of the Presentation (of Jesus in the Temple) on February 2. Most years, by the twelfth day of Christmas, I am ready to put it away.
I am not sure how I feel about it this year. I was as happy as anyone to see a new year rung in after the difficult one we just completed. But, even among the hard times, there were some treasured moments in 2020 for me. I spent a lot of time at home with my family which is unusual for us. Granted, a fair amount of that time was spent figuring out the complexities and frustrations of virtual school, but time spent by all 3 of us under one roof pre-pandemic was infrequent. I also had the task and privilege of sorting through lots of extended family photos and memorabilia after my aunt’s death. That helped me learn a lot about my mother’s family that I had never known before. I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with some of my cousins, which has been delightful. The whole family’s transition to middle school (anyone who has experienced middle school knows what I’m talking about) was played out mostly at home rather than in the nebulous world of the actual Middle School. And I “discovered” the practice of video calls with friends who live far away! For some reason, this had never occurred to me and a few close friends who live in North Carolina, Virginia, Chicago, and Phoenix. Who knew it would take the Age of Zoom to help us connect with each other in a virtual face-to-face way?
I also learned some important things in 2020, like the value of actual, physical face-to-face presence with other people AND the creativity that exists within us when we can’t be physically present with each other. I learned that you are deeply committed to your church community because you have continued to support it with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. And that is one reason why we are doing the January/February worship series, “Covenant.” Together with my friend and colleague, The Rev. Kate Floyd, senior pastor of the Sandy Springs UMC, I’ve been reflecting on what we can celebrate and how we can grow during this strange time of being separated from our church facility. We can celebrate and grow in our primary relationship: our relationship with God. Even though we can’t gather in our normal place and habits, we can continue to remain connected to God in the covenant relationship that God invited each of us into that led to our baptism, confirmation, and life-long participation in the Church. It really isn’t just a building or a steeple; it’s a way of life. It is the deepest and most important relationship we experience: our relationship with God in Jesus Christ through the invitation and movement of the Holy Spirit.
We use the word covenant to describe it because it is built on a promise made and expectations for the future shared between two parties: God and us. In very broad terms, God promises to be with us always. God expects the same promise from us in return, inviting us to commit our whole selves to God through the saving love of Jesus Christ so that we become so committed to God that our entire lives are built on that commitment. When we join the United Methodist Church, we enter a kind of covenant when we promise to support it with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Nowhere in that covenant do we mention facilities or even committees nor do we address altars or baptismal fonts. It’s more basic even than that. The promise to live our lives in such a way that we reflect our primary relationship in all our other relationships, in all that we are in the world—that is the covenant into which God invites us. It’s how God shows up in our lives. God is always there with and for us, no matter where we are or what we are going through at any given time. In the midst of a pandemic that won’t quit, we are learning that we can also be with and for God in so many more ways than we might have imagined before.
I look forward to working with new people in this worship series. I look forward to hearing and contemplating new perspectives on the covenant life. I look forward to strengthening the covenant relationship into which God invited me so long ago. And, I look forward to growing with you as we discover new ways to build an even stronger faith foundation in our lives and to care for the most important relationship we’ll ever have: our relationship with God in Christ.
Happy New Year!