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There is a lot of current talk about what ails the church and how these ailments will eventually destroy the church as we know it. Discussions of “reopening” now taking place in religious circles have intensified the debate. While some churches frame this discussion around public health and the disconnect from community that some members are feeling, others take the view that, “if we don’t reopen the church will die.”
Ailments Are Not a Death Sentence
The idea that the church is dying is not new; rather, it is a common fear that our finances, our attendance, and our faith are intertwined. In our denomination, there are groups that regularly assert we are "deathly ill." They say this as if we have some form of cancer that needs to be extracted and then maybe, by some miracle, we'll be able to live on.
Well, I might be able to get behind the idea we're deathly ill, but only in the sense that I'm deathly ill. I have diabetes. It appeared randomly and without warning. Doctors are still confused as to why and how I have it. I have no family history and no medical/lifestyle issues that would have logically led to the disease. Yet here I am. It will eventually directly or indirectly lead to my death if I live out my life to that point. But that is what proves my point: I don't know what will kill me. I do very consciously know that I will die at some point and that I have an illness that leads to death, but I don't know that it WILL kill me. I don't know if it does HOW it will happen, and I don't know WHEN I will stop existing physically on this earth.
Defined by Purpose, Not Weakness
So, if I am to argue that the church (like many of us) does have internal ailments that will eventually kill it, what does that mean? Should we change everything? Should we just hope for the best? Or do we realize that we have a purpose regardless, and continue to aim at that purpose, recognizing our weaknesses and dealing with them within the larger picture?
So often we as people label ourselves by our weaknesses. I do it too. I'm a Diabetic, I'm an Aspie, I'm an Extrovert. While these are all facets of me, to state them this way is to say, "this is the core of who I am," which is a false statement. I have diabetes, I live with Asperger's syndrome, I derive energy from people. These statements are much truer. They acknowledge things that are part of me for better or for worse, but don't define me by these things. They also are all things I can control. They won't go away, but I can recognize issues that come up and deal with them rather than hiding behind the "illness."
A New Illness
At this point in time, the church does have a new “illness” in that we cannot continue to gather, worship, and fulfill our mission in the ways to which we have become accustomed. We must make “lifestyle changes” and work muscles that were lying dormant. Here at WPC, we are lucky that the move to hybrid/online church has been smoother than for some other churches because of our history of live streaming as a ministry to the community. Yet, the work is hard and ever evolving, including removing some things, experimenting with new offerings, and setting new expectations for how we will make connections.
One of the hardest things we face, as individuals and as a church, is that recovery, transformation, and rebuilding strength are uncomfortable. We are not a church without community, we are not a church divided, and we are not a church without ministries, though these may feel true from time to time. We have come to a point where the chronic issues of the church have been brought to the forefront by an urgent issue in our world. We as the church have triaged and stabilized, but now we need to do the work to learn to live and be healthy together in a new way.
Putting Struggles into Perspective
It is tempting to define the church by its struggles, leading to a view that rather than a process of change and growth, struggles are something to extract so we can return to normal. Moments like this cause us to realize that when it comes to the systemic issues of the church, they are not the end, but part of our journey of faithfulness and discernment. Facing the issues and doing the transformative work that they demand will ultimately make us stronger and healthier.
We are diverse people struggling to understand who God is and what life is about. We need to connect by finding new ways and trying things that may or may not work for us. This work is, in my opinion, the very reason for our existence as a community of faith. We are discovering anew what it means to be created in God's image and as stewards of creation. We don’t have a road map for this time in the life of the church, and much of it continues to feel weird, incomplete, and uncomfortable. The temptation is to throw it all out and move to a new extreme, to protect and survive, but does that allow us to truly live in this moment? We may be surprised by how we can find balance and joy just by trying to faithfully live out who we really are...The Body of Christ.
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