By Rev. Anita Laffoon
I can now add “ministering in a pandemic” to the list of things I never learned in seminary. And if you are also a pastor, or even a volunteer at your church, you know that just about everything we knew about how to do church had to be reimagined, rearranged, and restructured during these past few months. At the beginning if felt like things were changing daily, even hourly – Plan A worked in the morning, but by the evening it had been scrapped for Plan B or even Plan C. I could spend all day working on an alternative way to do youth group, only to find out on my way home that there were new guidelines in place and I had to start all over again. It was like being on a train as it hurdled towards a dark tunnel, and we had so much to do and prepare before the darkness of the tunnel overtook us. But as exhausting as that chaos was, my logistics-loving brain was pumped. Every day was a new opportunity to be a creative problem solver, and while I wouldn’t want things to always be that way, I was enjoying the temporary rollercoaster.
But then came the long, quiet, settling in of the stay at home order. Kitchen tables have turned into home offices and classrooms and most of our social interaction now takes place on a computer screen. There are still problems to be solved, but the solutions are extremely limited. And as the weeks drag on social distancing becomes an everyday practice that feels physically heavy to pick up each morning. I see it in the faces of strangers in the grocery store, and I hear it in the voices of my church members. We are tired, we miss each other, and at times it can feel like there is no light at the end of this long tunnel.
But as we journey together, searching for “normal” and how to get back to it, I’ve started to notice light within the tunnel, not just at its end. Like fireflies in the dark little moments of joy appear to encourage me. Every time I taught someone how to start an online meeting and saw their face light up when mine appeared on their screen (“Look! I did it!”), a soft glow dispelled the looming darkness. When someone on the worship team tuned into their online small group on morning while they roamed around preparing for service to start, and I heard voices in the church for the first time in weeks, my heart felt a little lighter. Just this week I had a conversation with my youth about what returning to church might look like, and I could see the apprehension on their faces. But then one of them suggested we hook their gaming console to the projector so they could play video games while staying six feet apart, and just that quickly hope was restored to the group.
As John begins his Gospel he writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Our journey through this pandemic is not over yet, and it can seem like this dark tunnel will never end. But we carry within us a hope, a light, that the darkness can never take away. We hold it in the palms of our hands and lift it high so that others can see it too. We share it with each other when the darkness gets too deep. And together, we’ll light the way to our journey’s end.
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