Space to Heal
A Tale of Two Worlds
Last weekend, I worshiped indoors for the first time in a year. We were masked and instructed not to sing, but it still felt like drinking cold water from a fresh mountain spring.
While I was rejoicing with my siblings in Christ, we were also praying for those near and far whose experience of COVID continues to wreak havoc on their lives. Even as we are reopening our church campuses and tiptoeing to some new version of normal, other regions of the world are experiencing record high transmissions and deaths.
As could be predicted a year ago, the virus impacts the poor and marginalized far more brutally than it does the wealthy and powerful. Even so, few would have predicted the death tolls we are witnessing in places like India and South America while simultaneously watching the stock market climb to record highs.
Space to Heal
In response to these contrasts, I’ve been searching my heart for what to do, but my search has led me to an odd conclusion, or perhaps an intermediate one. Instead of asking what I or the Church can do, I’m asking a different question, at least for the moment: “What should I and we be doing right now?”
As privileged or as marginalized as any of us are individually speaking, all of us have experienced some level of disruption, if not trauma, over the past year. Friends have become sick, relatives have lost their jobs, some of them have lost their lives. Five of our own pastors have battled the coronavirus in their own bodies.
Layers of Trauma
What we have experienced isn’t something that “happened over there” or to “someone else.” It has happened to us. That’s a lot to deal with on an emotional and spiritual level, not only as individuals but as a faith community.
And if surviving an every-hundred-year pandemic isn’t challenging enough, we are living through one of the most politically conflicted times in our nation’s history, pitting sibling against sibling, and unnecessarily weaponizing nearly all public discourse for political or economic gain. It is not a civil war in the technical sense, but it sure feels like one.
As an older white male, I cannot even imagine the layers of trauma these past few years have inflicted upon People of Color as they and their allies (I pray I am one) have exposed racial oppression and economic exploitation for the evil they are and always have been.
So, the first order of business, I believe, as we move toward the “new normal” is to take a deep breath, to acknowledge the disruption we have been through, and to give ourselves space to heal, whether we are on a proverbial “cruise ship” or “life raft.”
On the surface that sounds selfish, but I don’t think we can do much good for others if we don’t take a moment to check in with ourselves. As the book The Body Keeps the Score contends, the effects of trauma are complex and pretending that they will magically go away if you only ignore them will not help anyone. Unprocessed trauma has a way of oozing out on other people no matter how hard we try to contain it. But with the support of others and God’s grace, we can face our pain and losses, however moderate or severe they are, and learn practices that move us beyond merely surviving to thriving.
The Role of Leaders
Leadership guru Max de Pree famously wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
I hope that naming our need for healing is a step toward “defining reality.” But as with most things Presbyterian, we discern the mind of Christ together, so I would be remiss if I failed to mention the thoughtful discernment that Council is initiating with church sessions this spring.
In May and June, members of Council will visit as many church sessions as possible to hear what is on their hearts and minds. To help facilitate those conversations, Council will be asking a handful of questions about their session’s hopes and concerns as they navigate a pandemic-changed world, their sense of the presbytery’s role in their congregation’s life, and how Council can pray for them as they lead their congregations.
Of course, Council cannot require meetings with sessions, but its members eagerly look forward to these visits so Council may have a better sense of what to pray for and how to serve the greater good of the presbytery.
Blessed and Thankful
As I close, I thank God for the hard work and faithfulness of so many. There is no “they” in Presbytery; it’s all a big “we.”
I stand in awe of how thoughtfully and quickly the teams of Council have granted over $475,000 in COVID Relief funds to congregations and new worshiping communities. But more than that, I’m grateful for how congregations continue to reach out to each other during this uniquely complex time to be the church and to serve our Risen Lord. It truly takes all of us working together to offer our best to Christ!
With you on the journey,
Presbytery Co-Executive for Vision & Mission