I just canceled the Zoom check-ins on Christian education planned for this week. Unfortunately only three people signed up and they were divided between two meetings. This low level of participation where once there was an enthusiastic number for Zoom check-ins seems to be symptomatic of what I’ve been seeing across the board with people’s participation in bible studies, Sunday school and leadership development.
I have found over these last couple of months that our church leaders and our people are more than exhausted from the ongoing stress of just keeping up during this pandemic. With the first year of the pandemic and its church building closures and protocols, leaders had a surge of energy and imagination for thinking about educational ministry in new ways and even began to focus on some things we’d been overlooking in the last number of decades. During the second year we established new ways of doing educational ministry and even began tweaking what we were doing as we got better and better at Zoom Sunday schools, porch meet ups and virtual worship. Moving into this third year I’m beginning to hear from many of our leaders that they just feel flat, without imagination, and are simply doing their very best to stay above water.
Everyone has been trying so hard to imagine new ways of providing faith formation possibilities with a constantly shifting set of circumstances for people who are trying their very best just to accomplish the basics of family life. I believe the lack of participants for these Zoom check-ins is symptomatic of this reality. I also believe it is pointing to the very crucial need that we must give ourselves permission to rest and take care of ourselves, our families and loved ones. I’ve heard the word ’Sabbath’ frequently in past few weeks and of our urgent need to step back and take time to rest in the presence of God. It’s an idea I think we need to seriously consider.
I grew up in a Presbyterian family where the Protestant work ethic was considered to be a gift of the Spirit, and a failure to keep up and show your best self to the world was reason for shame. I’ve been speaking in the past few weeks with many educators who seem to have been raised in similar households. Our fervour for keeping up appearances isn’t healthy or consistent in any way with the gospel of Jesus who said to his followers, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I am convinced that the way we not only survive but even thrive as a church through these continuing pandemic days is by paying attention to what God desires for us all: for our church leaders, our volunteers, our church people and our world. This is not to say that we all walk away and move to the beach (although I do like a good beach), it is to say that we need to give ourselves permission to rest in God and give each other permission to find rest as well; we need to admit our current realities and treat ourselves and others with the kindness and gentleness that Jesus espouses.
Maybe this year Lent does not mean the addition of new programs that ask our people to add another activity, craft or responsibility to their calendar, but instead offers the opportunity to be still and know that God is God. Maybe we don’t count our worth in the number of programs and gatherings we have to offer, but instead count the ways we simply care for others in quiet, simple ways. Maybe this year we work Sabbath into our Lenten journey, not as a program, but as a way of being.
Perhaps we show ourselves to the world as a people who care deeply for others, for their exhaustion, for their constant worry, and their pressed upon need to keep up to please their employers, their families and themselves. Perhaps we become instead a place of respite as we reveal our God who cares for each person’s deepest needs and offers a gentle hand to curl up in and know love. Perhaps we give ourselves and others permission to simply be still and know.
Grace and peace, Tori