Will change, should change, shouldn’t change, won’t change
When Paul was writing his letters, he was putting forth a blueprint for firming/sustaining the Christian church. He gave directives on what church should look like. From my time at Andover Newton, I know you have ideas about how having trained leaders who have vision and flexibility is what the church needs now as it’s future shape is still cloudy. Now, with the pandemic, there are even more questions of how church will look and function. Will we go back to communities without a dedicated sacred space? Will members be loyal to one community, or will they surf to a variety of offerings? Will the desire for community supersede doctrine or belief systems? How will individual churches finance and staff outreach? I am so interested in what AN is doing to address these types of questions. How will the current church (whatever that really is) pivot to a new day? -Kathryn W. Windsor, theological educator and Episcopal layperson
I heard you say recently that you “refused to get used to” some dimension of the pandemic lifestyle. What did you mean by that? -Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes, co-founding minister of The Double-Love Experience, Brooklyn, NY and brand identity consultant
I am not yet vaccinated against Covid-19, the seminary I serve — Andover Newton at Yale Divinity School — remains mostly locked-down, and the snow is piled high outside. Even so, I am already coming out of the hibernation mode that began one year ago with the pandemic. I am beginning to plan for days when our community can be together. Every organization of which I am part is asking the question, “What practices from this year might we continue into the future?”
With all due respect, I believe that’s the wrong question. Practices are only as useful as the principles they enact. A better question is, “What has fundamentally changed in our society due to the pandemic, and what practices will help us achieve our missions on this new landscape?” I am focused on three fundamental changes:
We live in a world deeply traumatized by disease and the social ills it laid bare, including the pervasive, global ill of self-serving and incompetent leaders who are unable to protect us.
Social justice leadership can now be equated with… leadership. No leader will be able to hold social justice off to the side and say that their leadership doesn’t intersect with its demands.
We have learned that technology can help us come together despite distance, infirmity, bad weather, and other forms of separation.
Therefore, the three areas to which we’re paying attention as we consider how to educate clergy for the post-Covid-19 world are trauma ministries, capacity for social justice education and activism, and community building. Conversely, there are certain directions I’m not ready for us to go, and to which, as Gabby remembers me saying, I refuse to become accustomed.
I woke up this morning with a splitting headache that began in my left eye socket and stretched all the way around the back of my neck. A few yoga moves loosened it up, and I know the culprit: 12 hours yesterday on Zoom. I refuse to get used to that, and so does my body.
One week ago today, I entered the weekend in not-right relationship with three different people who are important to me. Why? The week had been busy, and I was trying to tend to relationships over email with no time to be truly present to those people. That twisty-stomach feeling we get from being out of sorts with others? It’s not a busyness thing. It’s a disconnection thing, and I refuse to get used to chronic disconnection.
Kathy, I’m glad you brought up the Apostle Paul. When I first started Divinity School, even after a lifetime in church, I didn’t know or understand who Paul was. To quote an old, bad joke: I didn’t know an apostle from an epistle. In case any of my readers are in the same boat now, Paul was the Christian church’s first pastoral strategist.
Paul converted to Christianity decades after Jesus had died, and not before he had oppressed Christians as his day-job. Paul worked with small, local Christian communities to help them become organized and, when crises struck, to stick together. He helped them understand Jesus’ message on a communal, rather than just an individual, level. I’d like to think Paul would be proud of the way we’ve adapted during Covid and kept the Jesus movement going as best we’ve been able. I also suspect he’d be glad to know we’re thinking strategically about how to avoid burning up on reentry.
The first assumption I’m hearing from colleagues about what will need to continue after the pandemic relates to use of technology. I hear, “We’ll have to teach our students how to use it,” and I smile; it’s our students who’ve been teaching us throughout the past year. What we can teach our students, however, is how to take a step back from the medium and consider the message. To summarize again (because I’ve learned in the pandemic that I have to both iterate and reiterate due to readers’ shrunken bandwidth), here are some messages with which I’m living, and pointing out to our students:
The communities we serve have experienced trauma. Our job is to foster healing. When we fail to treat trauma, covering up the wound without cleaning it, PTSD is the result. Therefore, I am going to try to read everything I can get my hands on about trauma ministries.
Social ills, including and especially anti-Black racism, were always with us. Now, however — like the Apostle Paul — the scales have fallen from our eyes, and those who didn’t see it before can’t un-see it now. Police violence toward Black bodies, disparate health results in communities of color: may anyone with eyes see. Ministers need to figure out where social justice is being made real in their communities, and get themselves and their communities onto the right side of history.
People don’t just want to be together; they need to be. Although we now have new tools in our toolbox, the fundamental goodness of bringing ourselves into spaces with one another has been proven essential to life in community. I refuse to get used to not being able to feed people as part of our ministry. I mourn the loss of accidental encounters that spark new ideas and sometimes new relationships. I feel the loss associated with having to stick it out with people who bother us, as the skills required for dealing with others are similar to the skills we need to work on ourselves.
So, three areas to which I’m paying attention: trauma, social justice, building community. Three things I can’t wait to do with my community when able: hug, argue, eat.