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The New Normal part 1


Posted in Letter

Extract from the URC’s document ‘Ready for the new normal’ A Road Map for the Way Ahead

Facing an uncertain future

What seemed like a distant threat at the beginning of 2020 has become a present reality, changing lives and the way we live indefinitely. Some adapted easily to life under lock down, others have found the experience hugely traumatic and damaging to their mental health. Many have had to navigate the tricky waters of grief – hard enough in “ordinary” times. Coronavirus restrictions have made this even harder, and we must be aware of those who have not begun to grieve properly or grieve well.

Coronavirus restrictions and social distancing are inevitably going to be part of our life for many months to come until an effective vaccine is developed and deployed to the majority of the population (if that proves to be possible at all). The most vulnerable, including those over the age of 70, are likely to be the last to be able to fully reintegrate into society, and given the demographic of our churches that means that our common life together is not likely to get to a recognisable “normal” until, probably, the middle of 2021 at the earliest, and perhaps for much, much longer.

This presents a huge challenge to our churches, one with spiritual, emotional, physical and financial – even existential – dimensions. Yes, we are, as individuals, secure in God’s love. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ will continue –even, “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:16 NRSV).

However, church life as we know it will be different for a long time, perhaps forever, and rather than being fearful of this, we have an opportunity to shape how we will live well through the pandemic and emerge stronger – yes, stronger – on the other side.

Looking forward in hope

As this resource is being prepared we are between Easter and Pentecost. One colleague observed how appropriate that is. Like the first disciples, we are waiting to discover God’s new intention for us. It would be easy to look backwards at how things used to be. It would be easy to assume that we can get back to that state – and even make plans to “resume fishing on Galilee.” Having all experienced the pandemic differently, moving forwards will happen at different speed and in different ways for each of us. Be gentle with one another – those rushing ahead and those who need longer to move forwards.

Take some time as individuals, as Elders’ Meetings/leadership teams, as a local church:

To ponder:

  • Where are the signs of hope?
  • Where might we find the green shoots of new life?
  • What shall we do differently, and how shall we live differently as we work through the pandemic and emerge into this new season?
  • How shall we relate positively to self, to neighbour and to God through and after this pandemic?

To ponder and discuss during the lockdown days

In terms of church life, is there anything:

  • Good/valuable that you would like to continue and develop through this phase?
  • That you have thought, ‘I wonder if we could try this…?’ as lockdown continues?

To ponder and discuss as we prepare to emerge from lockdown

As you look forward to lockdown being ended, how do you respond to the following statements? You might like to indicate your strength of feeling, positive or negative, with a score of 0 to 5 by the comment, or draw appropriate “smiley” faces to indicate warmth or coolness towards the idea, or express your neutrality.

  • “We return to being church in our traditional/established ways as soon as
  • possible.”
  • “We recognise that health and social restrictions will be with us for a long
  • time and so we cannot do what we’ve always done at least for a long time.”
  • “Our return is governed by what is financially possible, appreciating that our
  • wider church life’s sustainability may have been stretched.”
  • “Our return, along with practical considerations on social distancing, will be
  • shaped by discerning God’s new mission for us in the post-lockdown context, (1) locally, and (2) as a denomination.”
  • “We learn from the lessons of the lockdown days, mindful that some churches have been able to reach parts of the community that traditional ministry didn’t touch, including (but not only) through worship offered online.”

Can we see the challenges and opportunities for ministry in each of these scenarios?

For reflection

We are on a journey through a pandemic, not knowing our destination, but aware we follow in a line of saints of old, who have set off before us in the footsteps of Jesus, walking the way. Like those before us, we may travel with faith and doubt, hope and fear, and, perhaps, have a holy encounter along the way. That we travel at all will mean that we are changed. Pilgrimage is about taking and risking such a journey, faith is knowing that we are accompanied by God, hope is in a Kingdom destination, and love may be experienced with companions.

Let this reflection lead you into a time of prayer, thanking God for His close presence, and asking for courage to face the uncertainties, and wisdom to understand the direction ahead and the speed at which you should travel.