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Under my breath


Sunday morning I went to church indoors and in person for the first time since February, 2020. I felt, as you might expect, a bit overwhelmed to be in the space again, even as a worshipper, and my head was spinning as my wife greeted the congregation and shared the announcements. When the organist played the introit that is usually sung by the congregation, I couldn’t remember. Did she tell us not to sing? I looked down at the paper bulletin, scanning for warnings or instructions. From the few dozen people attending this first service, I heard the barest murmur. But a few minutes later, when the organ struck up “Holy, Holy, Holy,” it was clear that most of us couldn’t help ourselves. We sang, softly, behind our masks. It wasn’t anything like the hearty sound familiar when this congregation gathers in full, but it felt tentatively hopeful, as if there is a future to imagine.

Ever since the pandemic closed things down, “experts” have offered predictions of its impact on future church. It felt to me like worst case scenario planning, whether a sort of anticipatory grieving or over-analytical positioning to be the ones who are right. It didn’t feel helpful to deconstruct their theories at the time, but as I read them, I shook my head and murmured under my breath, “We have no idea.” We had no idea what this would be like, how people would feel, or what they would do. We didn’t know for sure who would drift away or who would show up, who would disappoint us or who would surprise us in the best ways. We still don’t know what the longer-term impact will be. Like the soft-voiced, masked singers on Sunday morning, people don’t always live by the forecasts or best practices of “experts.”

That includes pastors.

What are you murmuring under your breath these days? What are the thoughts you are processing but not yet ready to give full voice? And what might be a safe way to play with them?

I tend to write things down and sometimes/often scratch through or backspace over them. I also like to talk it all through with trusted colleagues or friends who know that I sometimes have to say a thing out loud to know if it’s what I *really* think. Some people like to ruminate while walking or running, doodling or drawing, kneading bread dough or making beds. How can you make that space for yourself?

The thought murmured under my breath takes me back to one of my core understandings of ministry: location, location, location. You are the expert on your local context. The answers for what is needed in your particular faith community are not in a list of bullet points. They lie inside you.

My prayers are with you.

Faithfully,
Martha


What we've lost

A prayer for pastors

Merciful God,

In the long arc of history,
the ever-flowing stream of time,
fifteen months seems brief,
and we give thanks that our mistakes
and any breakdown in our communications
with you
will seem small and passing in the end.

But we are not at the end,
or even that place where the river meets the sea.

We are midstream,
unable to catch all the grief flowing by.

How can we hold a space
for overdue tears
for deep honoring
for tender remembrance
that won't feel hurried or belated,
inadequate to the need?

Help us, Great Comforter,
not to deny or ignore
but to heal and strengthen
all your people.

Amen.

we are midstream unable to catch all the grief flowing by

Clergy Community Conversation

Reopening & Reimagining


I wrote above about how some of us need space to process things out loud. On Thursday, June 3, at 2 p.m. Eastern, I invite you to join a facilitated, supportive conversation for up to ten clergy about reopening church buildings and reimagining ministry after COVID. Topics will include congregational dynamics, community factors, and personal impact. Click the button below to register and receive the Zoom link.
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