14 Mar The Pandemic: 3 years later
It was March 15, 2020. I was in our deacons meeting that Sunday morning. We talked about a virus spreading in the Northwest part of the country and a question about what it’s impact could be on us.
While we discussed the possible ramifications of the pandemic, phones belonging to parents of children in the public school system began to buzz and ring. Schools were closing for a few weeks and then a determination would be made about future plans.
At that moment, our deacons determined that our church would support and follow the school system’s decision. Our church would go ‘virtual only’ for those two weeks and then re-evaluate matters too. Those two weeks turned into months.
At the time, it seemed impossible for our church to function without meeting in person. Our leadership raised concerns about our physical and spiritual health, finances, and overall future of our congregation and community.
On a personal level, I had only been at the church for eight months and now was faced with leading our people through a pandemic (so much for a “honeymoon period”). Out of necessity, I had to ask our people for their trust and faithfulness during this unprecedented period of separation and uncertainty.
Thanks to the creativity of our leadership and our AV Team in particular, we were able to stay connected as a family of faith. I did mid-week Bible Studies on Facebook from my house and staff meetings via ZOOM. On Sundays, I along with a skeleton crew of staff did a livestream–it was quite a challenge preaching into the camera with empty pews! And, our people remained faithful in their financial support.
When we began our gradual return in June, there were accommodations that had to be made about social distancing, masks, and what to expect from our people. In collaboration with some of my pastor friends, I introduced a model to our leadership which including several phases: re-gathering, re-connecting, re-viewing, and re-building.
I certainly wouldn’t want to relive those early days of fear and panic caused by the COVID virus. And, I realize we aren’t all in agreement as to whether we are completely “post-pandemic.” People are choosing to return to sports, shopping, and other activities, plus we have a vaccine. So, the virus isn’t really a valid reason not to return to in-person involvement in church.
Three years later, I’ve learned a few things about church life:
1. A hybrid church model is here to stay. I’m looking for more of us to return to in-person worship, but realize the importance of the online option. Ideally, it’s helpful for our sick folks and homebound but I know others watch this way also.
2. Some programs and activities can be discontinued. This is probably the best lesson I’ve gained from the pandemic. Doing without certain things has made us value their return or recognize they needed to have been stopped a long time ago.
3. Our online presence is the “front door” for guests and prospective members. On more than one occasion I’ve been greeted by individuals and didn’t know their name, only to learn they had been watching for a while and were attending in person for the first time. Folks are going to visit us via YouTube or Facebook, and this will be the initial way they learn about our church.
4. Our church isn’t going to be the same. We’ve all gone through a shared trauma and it’s impacted us in different ways. Some of our people aren’t returning to us, and yet we are seeing new persons find their way to us. The church has been forever impacted by the pandemic; some of these changes have hurt us and some have actually helped us. Churches are discovering who they are and what’s really important for them to do.
5. There’s no substitute for in-person fellowship and worship. Yes, a virtual worship service is helpful but it will never replace being in the same place at the same time as a church. There are some experiences that cannot be duplicated online, and this desire for in-person connect will be a compelling reason for people to return to church buildings on Sunday.
6. Jesus Christ remains the same (Hebrews 13.8). Our Lord has sustained us for this period of time and will continue to do so in the days to come. Our Lord is not out of ideas and isn’t caught off guard by events like pandemics. Let’s continue serving him and trusting him with the results and what is yet to come.
So, I’m not “celebrating” this anniversary necessarily. But, I do recognize how we’ve been affected by this shared experience and am grateful to be in our church and town together. Thanks for hanging in there with me and our church staff–DC
Mark HalcombPosted at 18:04h, 14 March
Thanks for everything you have done Danny! And thanks to the church staff, ministry leaders and volunteers as well. I’m proud all of you