Our families, our churches, our schools, our communities. Almost everywhere in our environment there has been a strong urge to “get back to normal.” But it seems to me that the normal we left behind is not the normal we will be able to return to. Nor should we try.
I’m thinking mainly about congregations, but I believe the same ideas can apply to families and other communities as well. When we left our old normal, two things happened. We had to quickly triage what was most important and find ways to make those things happen. In that process, some things were necessarily left behind. The second thing that happened is that we created, discovered, or borrowed new ways of accomplishing our main purposes. And some of those measures had unexpected benefits. Many pastors report that the viewership of their Facebook, Zoom, or live stream worship services extend far beyond the membership rolls of their congregation. Congregations are connecting with people they might not otherwise have reached.
Congregations that had to quickly leave behind much of the busyness that went with the old normal may have discovered that they had more time and energy to care for their neighbors in very tangible ways. In congregations I have observed, people have been intentionally calling members who have been staying at home. They have been running errands and picking up groceries for people in their neighborhoods. They have been delivering flowers or vegetables from their gardens to those who have not been able to get out or do those things for themselves.
The congregation where I have been a member since my retirement a few years ago has been intentional about offering assistance and programming to not just the congregation, but the whole community. Every few weeks I have seeing some creative ways of engaging households and connecting them with each other while maintaining safe distancing. The typical youth mission trip was quickly converted to a series of small work projects in our town. Houses were painted, leaves were raked, and a municipal playground was rebuilt with all new equipment. One week messages went out throughout the congregation and the community that families could pick up a paper bag near the entry to the church and take it home to create a do-it-yourself Vacation Bible School.
This month included something I think of as spiritual geocaching. Several members of the congregation had signs in their yards representing one of the fruits of the spirit. Alongside those signs were souvenirs that could be taken by those discovering them… stickers, pencils, etc. Individuals or families who wanted a reason to get out of the house safely were invited to pick up a card at the church and see if they could find all of the fruits of the spirit somewhere in town.
I have shared examples from only one congregation. You undoubtedly can find similar and different stories to tell about your congregation, your family, your community. In what way can these be called political actions? Implicit in all of these activities is a commitment to love the neighbor and to reach out especially to those who are lonely or vulnerable. Each of these activities includes a focus on the welfare of the polis, the community. To my mind, they are political in the very best sense of the word.
There will be another political challenge as we begin to reincorporate some of the things that were left behind several months ago. As we begin to cautiously gather in our worship spaces, can we find a way to maintain those online connections to people whom we may never meet? As we consider resuming in-house programming for children and youth, how can we maintain the best of what we have learned in the past few months? How can we continue to support the family as the primary vehicle of Christian education for our children? As more people are able to leave their homes and do their own grocery shopping and other errands, how can we maintain the sense of connection with neighbors we may only have met because we were all sheltered in neighboring homes? How can we continue to look out for those in our community whose health or anxieties keep them confined to their homes?
Instead of automatically trying to re-establish what we used to have, we have been given an opportunity to choose our normal. We can gradually restore those former things that held meaning and advanced the gospel. And we can keep the best of the serendipitous learning we have done in recent months. It can truly be a new normal that works to the glory of God and for the welfare of our neighbors.