Over the last few days, lots of people, news outlets and other organizations have been spending time in reflection mode. It’s been a year of dealing with Covid. A whole year.
Where were you when you heard the news that Covid-19 had been declared a pandemic and then the news that the best response was lockdown? What did you do to do to collect groceries, paper goods and other supplies? What changes were you required to make to adjust to the new reality? Which changes did you hate, which changes did you like and which changes did you secretly love?
Among my most prominent memories:
- The whole family together, including adult children. My daughter was already living at home and my son, who had thought he might try to stay at his college, came home after most of the campus cleared out. Game nights became a fun routine.
- The process and decision to take in a local college student from abroad, who couldn’t easily get home. Where would we put her in our house and how long would she be with us? Did her family know what was going on and where she would be staying? Would she get along with our children?
- The discussions and emails regarding church. Before lockdown, we spent a considerable amount of time planning around how we could continue to worship on site—more cleaning, social distancing, no coffee and snacks after worship, etc. And then after lockdown, we spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to be church virtually. What platform? How? What should it look like? How should we deal with music? Would anyone attend?
At the time, we all thought we were making what would amount to short-term plans. Remember that? We would lockdown, movements would be limited, places people normally congregate would close for a couple of weeks, or maybe a few, and we’d get through this and back to our normal lives. It would all be over by Easter, many of Old South’s regulars declared, even when it became clear that it wouldn’t be over by Easter, or Pentecost, or summer, etc.
The last year has provided the opportunity to experience many blessings that we would not have experienced otherwise. Before the pandemic, I know that Old South would never have considered virtual worship. When forced, though, the congregation (most of it, anyway) not only considered online worship, but worship became a meaningful experience in new ways. Our old dog selves learned new tricks—and some of them, we have liked.
The last year has also brought, of course, a great deal of loss. Several church members, including Old South’s matriarch, have passed away since March of 2020. The loss of normal grieving rituals has been extraordinarily painful and disorienting. There’s just no way to meaningfully engage fully in grieving while physically distant from each other.
It’s been a long and challenging year. When we are able to return to in-person worship and gatherings, will we be able to bring some of the things we’ve learned with us, or will we eagerly slip back into old patterns and routines?
My fear is that the latter will dominate. My hope is that we’ll bring at least some of the new things we’ve learned with us, including the lesson that we actually can do unimaginable things, that we can learn new ways of being together, and perhaps most of all: we don’t need a building to be church.
Old South is a congregation that is getting older, and smaller. And we have two buildings that are becoming—like many in the congregation—in more need of maintenance and repair. While we yearn to gather in person without masks and distance, while we yearn to offer a comforting hug or touch (and to receive the same), while we yearn to belt out an old favorite hymn, we don’t require those aging buildings to do those things.
Trying to figure out what’s next for Old South is going to be a complicated conversation and process. But, our Covid time has offered gifts that we ought not simply heave to the rubbish bin of memory as soon as we can. This past year has taught us valuable lessons about who we are and to whom we belong. Reflecting on those lessons and integrating them into how we discern the path ahead, will likely make the journey more manageable and perhaps more hopeful and encouraging.