In today’s sped up world, waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine has felt like forever, but vaccines have come in record time. Various news outlets have pointed out that prior to this vaccine, the fastest one has ever been developed was four years (that was the vaccine for the mumps). As strange as it may seem, we can actually be thankful that vaccines have been developed so quickly. This may be a small comfort to families of the 308,000 people who have died in our country from the pandemic or the 1.65 million who have died worldwide, much less those who continue to suffer from the effects of the virus, those in quarantine in retirement communities and those affected by the economic meltdown. Yet, it reveals how our perception of time, especially as we are waiting for a certain outcome, is relative.
According to the calendar of the church—or at least churches who pay attention to such things—the Season of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, is a time of waiting. It is not idle time but rather a time of acknowledging our need for God to break into our world and disrupt the routines that don’t serve us very well and the ruts of oppression which keep us and others mired in pain. The goal of Advent is for us to be intentional about our waiting, so that when Christmas arrives, we don’t miss it. The “it” is God coming to us in unexpected ways amidst the busyness of our lives. We read the familiar Christmas stories so we can be like the animals in the manger, the shepherds and the Magi who witnessed a miracle most people missed. Our perception of this time matters greatly.
Last week, I shared what the author Frederick Buechner had to say about this time and how our perception of it can reveal a blessing.
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton . . . The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
Advent is the moment before THE moment, and that anticipation can be joyful.
I wonder if our whole culture is in a kind of Advent moment as we wait for vaccines to roll out enabling us to resume the activities we have for so long taken for granted but which the pandemic has revealed to us are sacred—watching a movie in a movie theatre, watching a baseball, soccer or football game in the stands, watching a concert or a play, even breathing in fresh air without a mask on! As tired as we all are (me included) of this pandemic, as sad as we may be this coming week as we forego our usual holiday traditions, is there any way to look to a brighter future and to bask in the anticipation of it? Is that too ridiculous a thought? I am not sure, but I hope not.
This morning I talked on the phone with PHCC’s Board chairperson, Jill Watson. We discussed our hopes for next summer and next fall. Would people come back to church? Would our youth, children and their parents return? Would our usual events resume? Or are people too scattered? Would things at PHCC return to normal?
What is normal? Do we even want things to return to normal? Do we want things to be like they were before the pandemic or do we dare to dream of something new and better happening? We are in the moment before the moment—before things open up again—can we dare to entertain an even brighter future for our church?
I know it’s a lot to ask of church people a week before Christmas to think beyond the holidays, but I’m wanting to plant some seeds in you so that when winter passes and so does COVID-19 something might sprout into growth. As you grieve what is lost this Christmas, dare to entertain some hopes for what you will do when the vaccines have done their job and we can go out into the world safely. Make a list of things you would like to do when things are safe again, so when the time comes you can get out and do them. As you look to the future with some hope, add some things to your list regarding your church. Beyond just coming on Sundays to worship, what do you want your church to do and be? Dare to think of some new things!
As I talked with Jill Watson this morning, I had a familiar feeling come over me. I’ve spent close to twenty years in declining churches trying to convince people to care enough about their own church, so they do more than complain about how it’s not like it used to be. I’m not talking about the core group of folks who do everything at church no matter what and are likely burnt out from it. No, I’m taking about most church members who look at the bigger churches on the block and complain about how we aren’t like them. Well, most churches aren’t like the big ones, because most churches don’t have members who are excited and committed to a future for their own church. Truthfully, I’m tired of trying to convince people to be more than consumers of their at churches. Your next pastor won’t want to do that either.
If you wish to be non-invested consumers of church, there are plenty of big churches out there for you. But if you wanted to get excited about church, a spiritual community that transforms your life for the better and does the same for our world, what would that church look like?
What will excite your next pastor and will attract them to you like a moth to a flame is a church of people who are entertaining dreams of that look like something new--church that doesn’t look like the types of churches who have been dying for decades but is open to God doing a new thing. What if being a part of PHCC felt like something as fresh as it will feel like to walk again out in the world without a mask on? Most churches even before the pandemic felt more like a burden than something to be excited about. What dreams for PHCC excite you when you dare to think about them?
Whatever they are it’s not too soon, in this moment before the moment, to start getting excited about new life after COVID-19!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851