Creating Conversation is a weekly editorial, curated by the Centre for Missional Leadership, that gives opportunity for people to speak about issues they believe are vital for the church in Vancouver.
One of the goals of this weekly article is to spark dialogue – and action.
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As of this week, we are officially two years into a pandemic. In 2020, I spent my St Patrick’s Day tying up loose ends in my office at St Andrew’s Hall; packing up my books and downloading files, and regrettably not bringing my plants with me as I left to go start my stint of work-from-home.
While I am back in the office once again, and more and more it is looking like there might be some sort of sustained return to gathering in person, there are still lingering signs of the pandemic. These past two years have left a lasting impact on our families, churches and communities.
You might have seen in the news last week the results from a survey which does not paint the most hopeful picture for our society coming out of this pandemic. Commissioned by the CBC, and carried out by the Angus Reid Institute, this survey looked at people’s opinions and experiences from the pandemic.
Some of highlights of the survey are unfortunately better described as ‘lowlights’:
- 61% agree Canadians’ level of compassion for one another has grown weaker
- 79 % agree the pandemic has brought out the worst in people
- 82% agree the pandemic has pulled people further apart
This is not the picture that many people were expecting when we started to stay at home, back when we were cheering on health care workers at 7 pm, putting rainbow drawings in our windows and celebrating our ability to be together, apart.
Since then there have been five waves of the pandemic, and our world now looks much different than anyone could have predicted. Vaccines have become a point of division, convoys and protests have paralyzed transportation systems, gas prices and inflation are the highest we’ve seen in decades, and now there is war in Europe.
It is in this context – as gathering restrictions lift in British Columbia and people become more confident with gathering once again – that our congregations are doing the work of figuring out how we gather and what worship looks like again.
While it is important for congregations to figure out how they start up coffee hour again and incorporate a hybrid online service, I wonder if there is a deeper invitation for the church.
With people feeling further apart and generally grumpier about their neighbour, what invitation is God extending to our congregations, and the broader church? How are we being beckoned to come join in with the Holy Spirit, who is already at work, healing those with deep wounds left by the pandemic?
Most people who have spent time on a church committee know how tempting it can be to spend all our time focusing on getting our own house in order; caring for our own needs, keeping an inward gaze and unintentionally neglecting the outward call of the church.
So how do we shift our gaze outward, into the world?
Darrell Guder, known as the editor of the seminal text, Missional Church, has an earlier work, which I find helps remind me of the inward and outward tasks of the church.
In Be My Witnesses, Guder explores the church’s mandate to be Christ’s witnesses. Drawing from Acts 1:8, where, through Pentecost, the community is enabled to be a community of witnesses to the life and love of Christ, Guder breaks down the task of witnessing into becoming the witness, doing the witness and saying the witness.
Becoming the witnesses of the gospel and Christ, is the process where we as individuals and a congregation are equipped to become witnesses to others.
For doing the witness, we are called to reflect the love we see in the gospel and be Christ-like in our actions and practices. This has both an inward and outward aspect; we need to reflect Christ’s love in how we gather and share life as a church, and we also need to reflect this light outward into the world.
There is also an inward and outward aspect with saying the witness. Yes, we need to preach the gospel within our own congregation, but we also need to share the good news in the world. We need to bring the message of God’s saving grace and love to people throughout our communities.
As the church, we need all aspects of witnessing – becoming, doing and saying – so that we do not offer a reduction of the gospel. We need both the inward and outward facing aspects of witnessing so that we do not reduce our missional calling to join in with God in the world. We need a balance of the aspects, and perhaps at times, we need to intentionally prioritize some of the aspects which have been neglected.
So, I wonder as we look at the witnessing mandate of our churches, and prioritize the reopening tasks ahead of us – given all that is going on in our communities and in our world – what is the invitation from God? How are we joining in with God’s work in the world to heal the scars that have been left by the pandemic?
- Who is joining those from the service industry whose livelihood has been crushed over the past two years?
- Who is offering compassion to the worker who is frustrated with ongoing restrictions?
- What help is being provided to those with disabilities and immunocompromised people who no longer feel safe going out in public, with restrictions lifted?
- Who is showing up for the families, the elderly and those on the margins who are not just feeling the pinch of inflation and high gas prices, but are having to make decisions between putting food on the table or paying bills?
What is being done to reach out to those on both sides of the protests and count-protests?
- Who is joining in with BIPOC communities who have been disproportionately impacted during the pandemic?
- And how are we, as witnesses, pointing towards the one whose compassion never grows weak, our God who is already active in our world, knitting people and communities back together with love?