This is an exciting time for Christendom. I’m reminded of the scripture found in Isaiah 43:16-21, MSG Bible, “This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards—Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.”
COVID19 has created a new normal in this global society for years to come. Even the church has been affected. I illustrate:
- Churches have remained empty, but functional
- Ministers are learning to adapt from traditional building worship to online, teleconferencing, and live streaming platforms.
- Steward Boards and Officers are creating ways for members and friends to give online, by mail, or text to give.
- The class leader system is resurfacing due to necessity of the hour.
- District, Regional, Episcopal, and Connectional meetings are being reshaped for online delivery.
Indeed, this is a new normal. When I was in the military, we had an exercise called running in place. It was excellent for getting our heart rate up but did little for moving forward. There was forward momentum nor forward progress. I wonder if we are changing to reflect God’s new move or just running in place, waiting for things to return the way they were.
I believe this is a time to examine our ways as a denomination. I believe we should ask the question what rituals, meetings, gatherings, modes of operation and methods have become too cumbersome to serve this present age. This is a challenge for our College of Bishops, General Officers, Presiding Elders, Pastors, and Lay Leaders. We can not assume that we will ever go back to business as usual. Can we discern what God’s new normal is for our church?
Matthew 9:14-17, MSG Bible, reads, “A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?”
15 Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” 16-17 He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”
In the age of G5 and Corona Viruses (of which many other strains will arise in the coming months) what of our structure can we renovate to “serve this present age.” In a cultural slang, we have heard it said, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Meaning, preserve the essentials, throw out the excessive or nonessential. This is the question for every leader and the College of Bishops are wrestling even now to establish such distinctions.
This is new for us all and we all must support our leadership, adjust to the new normal, and remember our theme for this quadrennial which I doubt was designed to address this pandemic but which certainly is apropos for this pandemic. Our theme is “Getting back to the basics as we envision our way forward taking care of God’s business.” This is both prophetic and relevant for our present circumstances and for moving forward into our new normal.
Let us unite to pray, fast, and seek God’s hand at work in this present age. Are we the church being led by God’s Spirit, able to answer this challenge, and meet the needs of the present age or are we kicking and screaming to return to the old way?
Well I believe conditions force us to rethink what is Methodist and what it means to be a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. I believe we have the right leaders, in the right places, to receive from the Lord – through collaboration, deliberation, and experimentation – to guide us boldly into this new normal.
The Louisiana Region Annual Conference is strategically forming a plan to move from the precautions of social distancing due to the Corona Virus pandemic to one which will address the critical facets of the brick and mortar Annual Conference in light of the new normal. To that end, we have cancelled our normal Annual Conference and are looking at the legal and traditional requirements to necessary for the Teleconference Annual Conference format.
We trust that the good people of the Louisiana Region will engage in this discussion with your Pastors, Presiding Elders, and your Bishop.