Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Little did we know three months ago when congregations across the country began suspending in-person worship services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that in July we would still be worshipping online, rather than gathering in our sanctuaries. Weeks have turned into months, and even with summer now here, predicting what our worship practices will be like this fall is difficult. What started as a temporary emergency response has now become our new normal.
In May I closed out my pastoral ministry in Puyallup, Washington with a taped video message, a surprise congregational parade outside my home, and an awkward Zoom meeting filled with goodbyes.
Nothing in my seminary training prepared me for such a transition!
And now, after a six-day road trip through eight states, I’m here in Morehead, Kentucky. My heart is hopeful. However, just like my goodbyes in Washington, seminary never offered a practicum on starting a new ministry amidst a pandemic. The usual first steps of shaking hands, sharing conversations over coffee or a meal, visiting with folks in their homes or in my office are not advisable. These next few months will be a challenge as you and I find new ways to get to know one another.
One of the unforeseen effects of our adaptations to living through this pandemic is that we as church have learned we can try new things—lots of new things. We’ve adapted church meetings, bible studies, worship services to share over Zoom calls. People have tuned into Facebook Live prayer services. Churches who never imagined having a YouTube channel have been uploaded worship service videos for months now. It has been such a joy to join in worship services around the world—to pray with the Taize’ Community in France, to join in prayer with friends in Alabama, Indiana, Montana, California, Colorado, and beyond. Our General Minister and President Rev. Teri Hord Owens led congregations around the country in worship on Easter Sunday. And last weekend the Poor People’s Campaign had more than 1.2 million viewers for its online demonstration. God’s Spirit is moving even in the middle of a pandemic!
It’s easy to want to focus on the future, intent on when things will get back to the way they were before the word coronavirus entered our vocabulary. That would be a mistake. God isn’t waiting for case numbers to go down or a vaccine to be developed, God’s Spirit is moving in our world now, always seeking the best in every situation, even in a pandemic.
I believe this time has given the church freedom to explore new venues, to dip our toes into social media in ways we might never have tried before, to reflect on our purpose and calling, and to hear voices which have not been heard. It’s also underscored the power of traditional ways of maintaining connections with others—cards, phone calls, and front porch visits are all important, too. Through all of this I’m hopeful the church will remain open to experimentation and creativity in our common life together. God is always doing a new thing in our world, and too often the church lags behind. My prayer during these past several months has been for courage to step out in faith and for the gift of vision to see the possibilities Spirit is offering us in these unsettled days.
I am glad to be in Morehead with you! You have already done so much to make me feel at home. I’m deeply grateful for the generous gifts filling my pantry shelves and for so many other kindnesses folks have shown me. Thank you especially to the members of the search committee, the executive board and others who are helping me get my bearings in this new place. Streets are starting to become more familiar to me. I’m slowly matching names and faces. And I am thoroughly enjoying the nightly firefly dance held in my backyard each night!
Today and every day is a holy gift. May God grant us eyes to see and a wise heart. For this is the day we are given. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
A native of Illinois, Rev. Nancy Gowler lived for 26 years in the Pacific Northwest. She joined the ministry of First Christian Church in Morehead, KY, in July of 2020.