In last month’s blog post, I wrote about how we were emerging from the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic (“slowly but surely, new life emerges around and among us…”). In these past few weeks since beginning our gradual return to in-person worship and other ministries, I’ve been considering this image alongside similar metaphors that I have found helpful for making sense of what we have all been experiencing.
Early on in Covid-tide, for example, I was drawn to the overlapping images familiar to us in the Upper Midwest: that the initial lockdown was like a “blizzard,” the on-going mandates and adjustments were like a “long winter season,” while the lingering consequences of the Corona Virus could be thought of as a sort of “ice age.” More recently, a Methodist Pastor named Jenny Smith provided a helpful image of running back-to-back marathons (the intended audience of her blog is other pastors, but I believe much of it applies to many of us who are active in church life, both volunteers and staff members).
Surveying the landscape of our life together in the newly unfolding time of re-opening and re-gathering, I’ve more recently been thinking along about the image of re-surfacing, like a deep-sea diver coming up for air. And the more I consider this image, the more I am struck by its somewhat natural corollary: “the bends.”
In our excitement for being back together, for returning to a sense of normalcy or even for discovering or creating a “new normal,” I wonder sometimes if we are being careful enough, intentional enough, deliberate enough about our emergence, about our return to the surface. I wonder if, like seasoned deep-sea divers, we need to be more careful not to resurface too quickly, in order to avoid subjecting ourselves to decompression sickness—a condition commonly known as “the bends.”
Friends, now is not the time to rush to put the many and varied pieces of our congregational life back together all at once. We need to start small. We need to pace ourselves. We need to leave ourselves room to grow—and leave room for the Holy Spirit to do her work. And we need to check in frequently with one another—since we are definitely not all at the same comfort level regarding such diverse things as handshaking, singing, sharing food, hugging, or simply occupying public spaces together. We need to embrace our congregational discipleship as a journey, not a destination.
Let’s be compassionate with ourselves as well as kind and understanding with one another. Let’s be intentional, deliberate, and careful with as we re-surface, each of us at a slightly different pace. Let’s remember—and remind one another—to breathe. And even though the earth should change, the mountains tremble, and the waters roar and foam, let us be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46).