What happens in childhood doesn’t stay in childhood.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as my husband and I improvise a school routine for our children at home, host church services online and answer every question with “not until the coronavirus time is over.” I have questions too. Will our children be shaped by this extraordinary time, as the Silent Generation was formed by the Great Depression? Will the church of their adulthood be significantly changed because of this experience? Part of that depends on how long it continues, I suspect, and how personally we are affected. Quarantine is only the first phase of the unpredictable fallout from this COVID-19 pandemic.
As it relates to the church, I also wonder if listening to scientists, medical professionals and public health officials will become a mark of faithfulness. This is how I’m framing it now as a pastor, but I can’t tell if that attitude is contagious or not. With all our discussion of vocation, and Lutheran investments in health care missions worldwide, we could lead.
Additionally, will changing our patterns of behavior to protect the most vulnerable people be a value that endures? People who aren’t high-risk are practicing social distancing right now in order not to spread the virus so rapidly, for the sake of those whose immune systems can’t withstand it. I wonder if this care could be applied more broadly, for example, with people boycotting cheap goods made by poorly paid laborers or voting with the vulnerable in mind. When we no longer fear a pandemic, will it be “too political” to speak of such topics in church?
This will be the Holy Spirit’s time to shine. We can depend on the Spirit doing new things we could never have foreseen.
We have always said that church is not a building but the people. But now we’re testing that idea. Congregations are trying to stay connected to people virtually during social distancing, but our view of who falls into our circle of welcome is expanding rapidly. We can watch livestreaming worship leaders and videos of favorite hymns and services. When we finally resume regular activities, will we still consider online worship (at whatever time is convenient) to be as “real” as gathering in person? Is it? Will my children’s generation have a new openness to other worship styles and even languages because of our online church-hopping? In this moment, the body of Christ is visibly, experientially universal.
I hope against hope that this pandemic and all that follows will not shape the church to be myopic, absorbed with finances and focused on reproducing for ourselves what we could have gotten from others. But that’s a big question mark at this point. The financial crises of workers laid off or furloughed from closed restaurants, tourism businesses, schools, childcare and other services will be clarifying. Congregations that did not have a two-month cushion of savings will have to make painful decisions. Is the church going to be about self-preservation or giving up our lives for the sake of others?
This will be the Holy Spirit’s time to shine. We can depend on the Spirit doing new things we could never have foreseen. I pray the church wants to go where she blows.