Thoughts for church leaders on reopening

As pastors and leaders, we’ve been acting in full crisis-response mode to COVID-19 and stay-at-home restrictions for weeks.  We’ve been in *liminal space, where who we thought we were and what we thought we needed may have gotten blurred and shape-shifted by the coronavirus crisis. Fueled by adrenaline, sustained by prayer, we have had to re-imagine and manage new forms of worship, new structures for community, and new challenges for mission – hopefully for the very-short term.

With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to ease, how do we transition from reacting in crisis-response mode to engaging a more measured and reflective response mode for this next phase? Disaster spiritual care practitioners have found that the greatest need for pastoral care emerges with the shift from short-term to long-term recovery, when people discover that for real, things will not go back to normal. Debilitating anxiety, hopelessness, depression, blaming, and scapegoating can easily set in.

Isaiah 43 says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  In this liminal space and time, where vision is altered and perceptions get blurred, God invites us to imagine, thoughtfully and prayerfully, what new thing is promised for us. Will this “new thing” look like the old? What will it require of us?

Whatever our starting point, let us as leaders plan wisely and well for next steps. Some approaches:

  1. What are the “essential” services through which our people most deeply experience connection with God and each other?
  2. Which of these essential components of our church life can we restart first without compromising anyone’s health?
  3. How will we monitor the effectiveness/safety of these activities?
  4. How will we discern what should be restarted next?
  5. What [emerging] spiritual, emotional, mental, social, physical needs require more attention?
  6. What/Who may be missing from our current plan?
  7. To what extent do our plans comply with local and state health directives?

For the children of Israel returning home from 70 or so years of exile, God provided a roadway in the wilderness, water included, inviting them into new modes for a new time springing forth.  May we as leaders and congregations discern the mind of Christ as we meet the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 with the best from before and the best that will emerge as together we seek to follow the way of Jesus.

*”Liminal” refers to “threshold” or “boundary” areas between one of phase [of life], and another: Dawn and dusk are liminal times between day and night, when visibility changes, perceptions are altered, edges get blurred, shapes shift, and new insights can emerge in the transition to light or dark.

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