Church

Young Adults

A college senior I don’t know is trying to organize a remote orchestra to record Pomp and Circumstance over Zoom for use in home graduation ceremonies.

A young adult I do know was recalled from his Peace Corps appointment after only six months. His term, like all Peace Corps volunteers, is terminated, and he will not be allowed to return.

College students I’ve spoken with were on spring break when their campuses shut down. They are miles and miles away from their dorm rooms with all their clothes and books. It may be September before they can go back. Some of them are leaders on campus; their peers are looking to them to solve problems and they don’t know what to do. Others who are abruptly “home” are in a place they don’t recognize, since their parents moved after they left for college. One says, “I just can’t be here.”

This moment of dislocation and suspension feels particularly grievous for young adults who were taking some of their first meaningful autonomous steps into adulthood. We have made so much of college as the conduit to becoming a “grown up”; who is a college student who can’t be at college? Institutions like the Peace Corps serve as containers for critical vocational discernment and the development of lifelong skills and agency. Who is an ejected Peace Corps volunteer?

I expect these young adults to thrive in these changed conditions–they are smart and full of conviction. But the more I talk to them the more understand how much is being asked of them.

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Church

112

My friend’s grandmother passed away yesterday near the ripe old age of 112. She was the oldest living person in her state.

If 2020 was her 112th year, she was born in 1908, which means that she was 10 years old during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. I am the father of an 11 year-old in another pandemic, and it is quite something to imagine her at 112, in the year 2120.

RIP Ella Gertrude Ellison.

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Church

YouthZoom

Involuntary change offers opportunities to go with losses. In the case of the junior high youth at the church I serve, a forced transition to Zoom youth group, at 5 pm on a Tuesday, after years of only offering a youth group on Sunday morning in the church building, enabled some students to participate–for the very first time.

Just as important as the functionality of the tools we’re all-of-a-sudden adopting is engagement. Who is able to connect this way who couldn’t before? And when the “need” for Zoom diminishes, will it have proved itself indispensable in engaging those kids?

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Church

Substance

The time for substance was before the crisis. The time for kindness and self-control, goodness and faithfulness–that was before those things were most critical. Because, of course, if we waited for the moment we needed love and peacefulness to develop them, we’re already behind.

Of course, given no other choice, this moment is just fine too.

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Church

Hide The Clock

I don’t exercise well or enough, and when I do I think only of how long til I’m done. If there’s a clock, I watch it closely. My mind breaks down effort into manageable increments: only two more minutes until I’m 1/3 of the way done.

A couple weeks ago I hid the clock, though. I wanted to experience more of what I was doing in the moment instead of thinking about how much of it I had left to do. I’ve been hiding the clock ever since.

We don’t know exactly how much time is left in this current moment of flattening the curve and the economic impact that will follow, that has already begun, so the analogy is flawed. There is no reliable clock for this. But maybe there is something here in this day-to-day that might benefit us to focus on and feel, and maybe if all we care about it how long it’s going to last we’ll miss it.

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Church

Zoom?

I’ve participated in four Zoom gatherings in two days and been trained on a webinar.

This is exhausting.

Seth Godin has a useful framing of the move online with our work. He thinks it’s an opportunity to work differently; trying to replicate what we normally do using video calling tools is ineffective. Because it’s not the same medium, so the rules are different and the effect on participants is different.

Last night we did youth group over Zoom–15 high school students, two staff, and leaders on a video call for an hour. I did my best to keep it organized, and I think it mostly worked. It was pure joy to see our students and hear them talk about the things they’re doing to endure. But when it was done I felt keenly what this forced separation is taking from us, and that is the moments of deep breath and relaxation in the company of friends. Even when it’s your job, even when you’re in charge, those moments are energizing–they’re a kind of fuel to get through the agenda.

You just don’t have that on a screen. Instead it’s mostly tension. Your eyes and neck and shoulders are straining most of the time. Somebody’s audio cut out. Your audio cut out. Some participants couldn’t be seen at all.

I’ve heard someone suggest that, when this is all over, we may discover that these remote tools are superior to our conventional way of working in-person, in a church building. It’s early days yet, but that seems very unlikely to me.

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Church

Video Prayer

I spent the first morning of suspended church activities in my office watching videos of tips for recording YouTube videos and writing a script for one I planned to post urgently later in the day for my youth. I did not enjoy this. In a text exchange with a friend, I complained that I’m much more comfortable with audio than I am with video. His reply? “Well, now’s your chance to get comfortable with video.”

Thanks a lot, Landon.

I was interrupted by a call that someone was at the church who wished to speak to a pastor. I went out to meet the person and was greeted by a smiling guy in a Carhartt jacket and a goatee. He told me he was from Indiana and that his wife was having a procedure at the hospital across the street. I prepared myself mentally for the heavy news he was about to share about his life. But instead, he explained that he was part of an online church and that, when he saw our church building, he felt compelled to come in and find someone to pray with about Coronavirus. He added that he wanted to video our prayer and post it to the church’s Facebook page.

So to recap: one moment I’m alone in my office fretting about having to do a new kind of work for church that makes me feel inadequate and self-conscious, and the next minute a complete stranger walks into the church looking to do with me that very kind of work, because it’s literally the only way his church does church. Got it?

It was not comfortable. His vocabulary for God and his framing of the urgent need of the moment was very different from my vernacular. I felt a momentary panic that I would be publicly associating myself and my congregation with some fringe religious entity. But only a moment. I thought instead about what kind of discomfort this person had overcome to walk in here and express this invitation to a complete stranger, one wearing a clerical collar no less. After a couple minutes of conversation, he propped his iPhone 5 up on the table, hit record, and we prayed.

Later that day, I did the same thing for myself, confident that this is a thing you can do to be church.

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Church

Move

In the first moments after we decided to suspend worship activities, I sat alone in my office in a stifling quiet, exercising my brain on all the youth activities that would be affected. These moments weren’t the first in which I’d thought this through; for three days at least the possibility of program suspension hovered over everything. But I didn’t have any answers, and I could hardly move.

Was I going to start recording YouTube videos for youth group? Could I experiment with video conferences? These aren’t tools I use, and I don’t feel confident with them. I hadn’t even written the email to parents explaining the decision yet.

Email, right. Something to do! I opened it up to begin writing, and there in my inbox was a message from a parent of one of our students. It simply said that she figured we might need to cancel programming, and that if we did she could connect me with the webinar software she uses for her job and could train me and my colleagues how to use it.

Whoah. Was she reading my thoughts?

We spoke on the phone the following day, and this feels kind of perfect. Webinars were not in the repertoire of things I was mulling over, but they will work perfectly for things like the Confirmation parent meeting I have scheduled for this week. Anything that involves one person presenting content to a group can work as a webinar. She’s training us on it today.

It feels like a kind of physics of the Spirit: if we just start moving, people will move with us. And those people are super smart and generous and passionate. We can’t lose.

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Church

Indefinitely

Indefinitely means we don’t know how long.

We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know how long “normal” will be suspended. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Indefinitely is a very uncomfortable thing to say as a leader.

But indefinitely also means we don’t know: the resilience of our community; the capabilities we possess but haven’t been using; the needs that have been hiding.

Indefinitely is an opportunity to make an impact in a different way, if we’ll take it.

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Church

The Question

It isn’t a question of calm vs. panicked. Inappropriate calm and inappropriate panic are both harmful in their own ways. There is a time for every season . . . including panic.

No, the question is more about awareness vs. mindlessness. If we can keep aware, first of our own internal processes–our emotions, our bodies, our thoughts–and then of the state of those around us, those we seek to serve, we will be on much surer footing than if we react, react, react and never stop to inquire.

In this moment, inquiry is just as valuable as declaration

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