There is considerable debate about the origins of the saying, “May you live in interesting times.” It has been quoted as both a blessing and a curse. Who first said or wrote it is argued. Where it originated is debated. But there is no doubt that it applies to our current reality. After General Conference 2019, COVID-19, Snowmageddon, and our staff changes, I am ready for some boredom!
I’ve read several articles based on surveys related to the impact of the pandemic on churches. While all these surveys claim to be authoritative, they arrive at different conclusions. One estimates that only about 50% of our in-person worship attendance will return. Another estimates that about 20% of our churches will close. And yet another indicates that most of our pre-COVID worship attendees will return over the course of 2021 and churches will rebound. Note that these are all reputable firms which publish many studies related to the church in America. Whom do you believe?
Similarly, with the postponement of General Conference until 2022 or later, I have heard and read lots of speculation. Opposing groups each find reason to suspect the other of manipulating this delay to their advantage. Some groups still are advocating for certain legislation while others feel that “all bets are off,” legislatively. Some feel that this delay is destructive to the UMC while others feel that this may be God’s intervention in our struggles. Churches on both ends of the spectrum are leaving or staying and encouraging others to do the same. The only certainty is that any opportunity to address the dividing issues has been put “on hold” until 2023 – if then. Again, whom do you believe?
So, how do you move forward when “forward” has been redefined – and no one gave you the definition? First, you remember that you are a beloved child of God and that God has good things planned for your future. (Jeremiah 29:11) Second, you draw near to God and lean in as God draws near to you. (James 4:8) Third, you trust in the Lord with all your heart and in all your ways. (Proverbs 3:5-6) And finally, you walk in the light of His presence. (1 John 1:7) This you can believe!
As Bethany’s staff and leadership have grappled with and submitted to God in all of this, we’ve come to realize that God is calling us to deeper and more effective discipleship. We’ve examined ourselves and our community. Our discernment suggests changes are needed in several areas of Christ’s ministry at Bethany. Some of those are simple and some are much more complex. As we share and discuss these in the coming weeks and months, it will be tempting to become anxious or fearful and hold on to “the way we’ve always done it.” I believe, however, that God is calling us to renounce that fear and anxiety. God desires for us to walk, trustingly, into the future He holds for us. Yes, even if we are not clear about what that future will be.
There will be life after the pandemic. But will there be faithful life? And will you choose to be part of it?