Old Values, New Actions
Featured Photo by Erin Dunigan.
Changing circumstances call for changed practices. But wise changes always stay rooted in core values. So—what does that look like?
My 82-year-old mother has long been a greeter at her church in Thousand Oaks. When people approach the sanctuary, before they get to the ushers, she welcomes them to church. If she doesn’t know them, she asks who they are. If she knows them, she asks how they are.
When the shelter-in-place order took effect, she could no longer greet people. But she didn’t want to lose that sense of weekly connection. So my techno-phobic mother is now sending out daily emails to those people she would have otherwise greeted. They are simple notes—“I thought of you today”—but they maintain her sense of connection to the church. I am impressed.
How church people have responded
Your quick adjustments have also impressed me. For many of your congregations, the value of relational connection—something that before was inherent to church activities—has risen to the fore.
You have contributed to worship with homemade Scripture readings, prayers, and testimonials. You have sung hosanna and waved palm branches in virtual procession (even those who are too young to understand what they’re doing). You have parked in parking lots and honked car horns in rhythm to the Hallelujah Chorus. You have produced daily Facebook devotions and weekly Zoom Bible studies. You have celebrated the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday with bring-one’s-own-elements over live video. You have charged in, face-forward, to hospitals and hospice centers to console patients, families, and staff.
The best thing about this? I’m confident the list above doesn’t even begin to cover what you all have done.
You have made changes to how you do church. But you have kept close to the heart of being church—a people together, focused on Christ, worshiping God, proclaiming the Gospel, serving and loving your neighbors. I am impressed.
How presbytery people have responded
I have seen the presbytery staff and committee volunteers respond quickly and faithfully, too.
They have found and published resources from the PC(USA)—Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and the Stated Clerk’s Office. They have assisted with applications for financial assistance from the denomination and the federal government. They have figured out, nearly overnight, how to facilitate the Presbyterian way of information sharing and decision-making when no one can be in the same place.
And they have done all this while keeping the ordinary work of the Presbytery… well, working.
Honestly, when I see news articles about how to pass the time while sheltering in place, I wonder who needs them. Everywhere in the Presbytery I look—church leaders and members, Presbytery staffers and volunteers—I see people working harder than ever.
More importantly, I see them making it work. They—you—have sustained the Presbytery’s purposes: supporting ministers, congregations, and ministry partnerships; sowing seeds for new ministries; facilitating corporate discernment and decision-making; and managing our resources to support others.
I have seen them—you—make it work. And they—you—have done so in the face of extraordinary obstacles. So, I am impressed. Somewhat exhausted, as many of you must be just after Easter, but impressed.
All three—my mom, our congregations, and the Presbytery staff and volunteers—have held a common thread. We have all figured out how to change what we’re doing (quickly) so that we can keep pursuing what we value.
That common thread gives me hope for the months ahead.
We cannot see what life will bring when the shutdown ends. Everything I’ve read says that things will not be the same as before (go ahead, call me Captain Obvious). We will have to re-evaluate, and re-evaluate again, what patterns and practices we can sustain as a “new normal” sets in.
We cannot see the coming circumstances, but we can keep coming back to our values. We can choose new actions, not out of a fear for survival, but out of a commitment to who we are.
We can look for new actions, but in those actions, we can seek out opportunities to honor old values: practicing corporate judgment and representative governance; raising up leaders from within congregations; making room for the smaller and weaker among us; sharing power; caring as much about how we decide as what we decide; practicing transparency; and—first and last—seeking and representing the will of Christ.
In an anxious time such as this, it could be easy to forget ourselves. But I have seen good reason to believe that many of you are, instead, discovering anew who we have been for centuries, even as we find new expressions of that old identity to accommodate a very new day. Keep on keeping on.
Somewhere along the Way—