Earlier this week, I was involved in a conversation with clergy colleagues about our current predicament during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Most of us have been asked when will we return to gathering physically for worship in our churches? We’ve also been asked when will we return to normal. A wise person reminded us that the important question is not “when” but “how.” Each worshiping community is set in its own unique context, has its own challenges, and must sort through its own resources to determine how we will move through this time into a brighter future.
The Wardens and I are working on the appointment of a “reentry team” to help us formulate a plan. As we do that, we are mindful that whenever we emerge on the other side of this crisis some things will be different. There will be changes. We recognize that everyone has some degree of difficulty with change, regardless of how beneficial or unavoidable it may be. At the same time, we know that human beings are endowed by our Creator with a remarkable capacity for change. In fact, the pages of sacred scripture are filled with examples of how the exercise of that capacity has impacted the story of God’s people. Also, in the New Testament, change is central to the message of Jesus Christ. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14, 15). The Greek imperative metanoiete, which we translate “repent”, is a call to change one’s life.
Some biblical stories are about those who were able to make the changes necessary to be faithful to God, such as Abraham, Moses, David, and the Holy Apostles. Other stories tell us about those who were unable to make such changes, such as the people who were destroyed by the Great Flood, the generation of Hebrews who had been slaves in Egypt, several generations of Israelites whose apostasy resulted in defeat and captivity, the rich young man who came to Jesus, and, of course, Judas Iscariot.
There’s good change and there’s bad change and, quite often, there’s just change. Not all change is equal. But life, as God gives it, is one change after another. The struggle with change is bound up with the struggle with faith in God. Those who thrive are those who adopt a hopeful attitude toward our God-given potential, draw upon the uniquely human capacity for adaptation, and bring about purposeful refreshment, recreation, and renewal among the communities where they live and worship.
Simply put, our faith provides us with insight into how to draw upon that capacity for creative living and the advancement of God's redemptive purposes. People of faith have lived through crises and catastrophes before and this time will not be the last time. But this is our time! We want to be faithful stewards of that time. How we live use this time and how we journey through this transition as a community of faith is ours to discern, with God’s help.
One of my favorite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer came to mind as I was thinking about the relationship between change and faith. When I turned to it, I realized that it is a prayer that is primarily used in liturgies for times of significant transition in the Church’s life and liturgical cycle – such as Ordinations, the Celebration of a New Ministry, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter. It is a wonderful prayer for any time in the life of the Church, but especially when we are asked to make some sort of change as we progress in the journey of faith. I commend it to you today:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry
out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Blessings to you and yours,
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church
P.S. Here's a hymn that explores the world of change God has made.