From the Pastor (04.23.21)

It’s time to start thinking about what church will “look like” once we are able to return to some degree of normalcy. The fact of the matter, of course, is that nobody knows.

No one knows who will have become so used to “virtual worship” (I’m not crazy about that term. Doesn’t virtual imply “almost real but not quite”?) that they won’t return to in-person worship.

No one knows when it will be safe to have extended choir practices or congregational singing without masks.

No one knows whether or when we will become comfortable again with small groups meeting in closed rooms.

No one knows whether the Midweek Prayer Service via Zoom (that has attracted more people than we were having in person pre-pandemic) will continue in its current format or revert to the traditional approach.

No one knows what effect our increased awareness of infection transmission and the slower rate of recovery in some parts of the world will alter our approach to missions.

There are a lot of things that we do not know. Only time will tell. 

However, in a report from the Barna Group, we can get some idea of what people missed the most and the least during this past year. Realizing that every group is unique (and Parkway may be more unique than most), we might extrapolate a future direction in which congregational life will be going.

Some of the things that were reported as being missed the least were Bible studies, corporate prayer, small group gatherings, and Sunday School. Before you assume that this means a downward trend in interest in those facets of spiritual life, remember that these are some of the activities most easily provided online. We may all be getting tired of online meetings, but the fact is that they are unaffected by where a person is, what the weather is like, or how far one has to commute to a building. It will be interesting to see how many of the activities that have followed basically the same schedule and format for generations will have been altered as we move forward.

On the other hand, some things were sorely missed when we were not able to be together. Barna reports that among the most missed were taking Communion, socializing, and experiencing live sermons. I think this is being borne out by the level of participation we are seeing in outside in-person worship. You were obviously hungering for interaction with the other members of your family of faith. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m much happier when the sermon is delivered live than through a video (even though that practice will continue until everyone is able to gather safely inside), and surely we all missed celebrating the Lord’s Supper together (even though the “self-contained elements that we are using right now aren’t exactly the best representation of the body and blood of Christ). My prayer is that, having missed out on all of those things for so long, there will be an eagerness to join more wholeheartedly in the full worship experience once it is available.

One of the aspects of worship that I have missed the most personally is choral music and congregational singing. No matter what nice things you might say about the sermon, I’m sure for many of us the parts of the service that move us the most are musical.

While there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of the Church (and Parkway especially as you seek a new pastor), one thing is certain: we cannot go back to “the way things used to be,” nor should we. God is always doing new things, and hanging on to any practice, program, approach, or attitude simply because “that’s the way we have always done it” is a refusal to be open to God’s leadership moving into the future.

The world will need us as much post-pandemic as it did before. A lot may have changed, but, in God’s providence, that never will. We just need to be open and receptive to whatever God has in store.