In the Meantime,
Some years ago, a member of my former church had a medical catastrophe that resulted in a stroke. She was in her fifties and has recovered 98% since, but several of the times I visited she was relearning how to speak and walk.
I thought of her as we resume activity that has been dormant for months because of the pandemic. In many ways we have to relearn how to ‘do church’ as clergy sometimes say it. We know in our heads what to do but the muscle memory is gone. I get a glimpse of this as I try to regain my keyboard skills from long ago. I know the notes in my brain but my fingers need to relearn how to make them. We know what to do, as a community, but the ligaments and muscles that made them happen – coffee hour, counting the money, etc. – have to be brought back.
That takes time, and like my former member, we are impatient that it takes so long. Her determined face showed that. I hear it from folks here at VUU – When will the choir be able to sing? What about FUUND? These are the grunts and groans of a body relearning what it has forgotten, determined to get back what it had.
A year ago I talked about a book fortuitously written for times like ours, by the church consultant Susan Beaumont. She counsels congregations in uncertain times (pandemic anyone? Searching for a minister, maybe?) to cultivate an attitude of discernment more than deciding, which means doing that thing I quoted from Rilke, “be patient with all that is unsolved, and try to love the questions.”
The questions before you are not ‘who will make the coffee?’ but ‘what does welcoming mean virtually and actually?’ It is not ‘how do we get people to join and pledge?’ but ‘who are we in this time and place?’ The practical questions do matter, but only in the light of larger questions. And if Rilke is right, the answers to the practical questions become evident when you focus on the larger ones. -FW