It’s September. It’s autumn…or will be soon. And that means it’s also the season of expected cyclical transition from summer vacations to an academic calendar, from hot and humid to cooler and dryer, from baseball to football, from lush and green to chrysanthemums and colorful leaves. We are all, in some way or another, preparing to go back. But back to what?
Back to school, perhaps. What a joy it was yesterday to pack school supplies for our Robinson CLC teachers…to work alongside these folks with whom we have been partnered for a sixth season. It’s has been (and continues to be) a ministry filled with great joy and significant impact for the school, the faculty, the students and their families. And perhaps that transition is happening in your household, too, as our own kids get ready for a first day of first grade…or high school…or law school. All the nerves. All the hopes. All the anticipation makes this a very special time.
But there is a heightened sense of anxiety as we go back to school in a lingering pandemic. To mask or not to mask? To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? To demonize those who oppose our point of view on these controversial subjects or to manage civil conversation even in disagreement? It seems as though going back to school…both this year and last…are a whole lot more difficult than we would like.
Back to church, too. Traditionally, the end of the summer season has meant a return to Sunday School, the reappearance of choirs in worship, and a new line-up of studies and fellowship events. There will indeed be something of the above that finds its way on to the Holy Trinity program calendar. But it’s likely not to resemble the gatherings to which we were accustomed. Covid, again, has impacted our expectations for the usual. We will continue to rely on more innovative ways of gathering for worship and discipleship and the community-building fellowship we seek. And we will continue to sort out the science on how best to gather safely in person for those who are so inclined.
Back to normal? Well…that depends on your definition of normal. When I was ordained in 1994, normal meant that the internet was just being born. Amazon was busy selling books. Bill Clinton was in the White House. And there was no World Series because of a MLB players’ strike. Social media had yet to be invented. Computers and cell phones were alarmingly (by today’s standards) unsophisticated. The current context in which we do ministry could not even be imagined.
All of which means that our own life experience reminds us that we are continually growing, evolving, changing to meet the demands of our present moment…which is where, I think, the whole “back to” notion breaks down. We are never really going back to anything. We are always moving forward into what is becoming.
And that is good news.
As Christians, we know the future that is secured for us in the resurrection of Jesus. We can look ahead…and change with confidence…even amidst of tumult of our current situation because we know who holds the future, and consequently, who hold us.
So rather than “back to,” let’s focus on “into.” We are being called “into” ministry “into” a future that we cannot clearly see, but one that we are confident is secure in the strong embrace of a gracious and loving God. And no matter what confronts us along the way, that God is with us and for us. We have that promise. We have one another. All of which, dear ones, is cause of joy and hope for whatever it is that we are moving “into” next. †