What a time to be alive—I have used this turn of phrase in the past when looking at the unique challenges we face in the hopes to be faithful to the call we have received as people and as a church. Challenges like the climate crisis, social polarization, income disparity between the ultra rich and the poor, the consumptive formation of our society, and I could go on and on.
And then COVID-19.
It is a virus that is new, unexpected, and powerful. It has disrupted our usual habits, practices, and ways of being in the world. The new is hard, because we don’t initially know how to respond to it. Our status quo has had a massive interruption. For us in the diocese of Island and Inlets this comes with significant challenges and brings with it some great opportunities.
We have been aware of the trend toward increasing age and decreasing numbers within our parishes for quite some time. This trend has slowly shifted many of our parishes to rely on income from rentals and fundraising events to subsidize tithes and offerings to make the budget work. Over the past year, I have met with many parish councils and had the opportunity to “catch the vibe” of how the governance conversations are conducted and explored. I am always amazed at the intelligence and talent in our midst. The stresses of finances, however, are a significant burden that these groups carry.
One thing I have said to some of these groups is that the parish structure we have inherited works wonderfully when there is enough people and enough money. In the case where those are short, a few people are left to do so much in trying to make the machine keep ticking.
There is a lot of questions going around about how this time will change what is to come. Will we, as a society go back to the way things were before, with all the perks and pitfalls of what that was? Will we seize the opportunity to do some work on our common systems to help people live a dignified life through our shared resources? Or, will this be a chance for the massive corporate entities to tighten their grip on the exchange of goods and services? Expect countless think pieces and columns to be written on these things in the coming months...
What I am looking for in all of this is what will be left in this season? I think this is a key question for our communities to be asking in this time. What have we always done, but given this opportunity, now seem worth reconsidering their importance?
I am already growing tired of the phrase “new normal.” It includes so much unsaid, implied ongoing restrictions and more unknowns. But as we venture into it, my hope is that we can take the time we have not had before to critically look at what we do and why.