Last week the New York Times ran an article titled “How Covid Changed the Clergy in New York,” which triggered my own reflection on how the past two years have impacted me as a clergy person and, more importantly, how it has affected my mission in the church. Looking back, I am beginning to think that the restrictions on worship were not the biggest challenges the church faced during the pandemic, though that was definitely where all my attention went. But now, in hindsight, I realize the greatest damage that the pandemic wrought for the church was the almost complete cessation of in-person mission work.
Staying vibrant and engaged requires action. Most of the people I know found ways to exercise their bodies and their minds during the lockdowns. People also came up with very creative ways of getting together with friends and family. Even worship rebounded quickly with the weekly videos that Scott Eschbach laboriously put together each week and people who had never opened an email somehow found their way to the YouTube link every Sunday at 9:30 am. But mission work was not as easy a problem to solve. Most programs where people help people had to stop. We did collect and distribute food (I loved those Saturday mornings in the parking lot), and some were able to cook meals for drop off at Transition House. But the heart of mission lies in being in close proximity with people we don’t know, learning about their lives and the challenges they face. That face-to-face contact conveys a powerful truth: “you matter to God and to me.” We, the mission workers, need that interaction as much as the recipient of the good works do. We are being transformed through mission as a church and we cannot be church without it.
Yet, even today, our mission work is limited. We are still not quite back to the kind of work where we can look a stranger in the eye and discover our neighbor. That is a hardship for the church because if we don’t give away the love of God we will cease to feel its powerful presence among us.
Therefore, this is my Holy Week/Resurrection prayer: Lord God, restore us to the mission field! Give us the strength to go out and meet our neighbors. Give us eyes to see where there is need and hands that reach out in giving. Give us the courage, the insight, and the clarity to follow where you lead.