This year has been different in many ways. And this past week was one of the biggest differences.
Usually for Thanksgiving, family from six states gather at my in-laws’ house to celebrate the holiday. Well that did not happen this year as we missed out on being in person. Instead we gathered at our various homes and connected directly or indirectly through technology and old fashion phone calls.
It was not the same thing gathering this way, but it meant that the family member with diabetes was not put at extra risk; the Air Force officer did not have to miss the festivities; the nurse did not have to follow extra protocols; the school librarian did not have to undergo testing or quarantining before returning to school; and all the rest of us were also safe as well. Like many things this year, Thanksgiving was not the same but we adapted and moved forward.
In much the same way, one of the things I have missed the most during 2020 is visiting with my church family across the congregations of the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois. Normally I am traveling around southern Illinois to visit, worship or meet with congregations multiple times a month. Since March, I have participated in one in-person worship service and one in-person meeting (and both were masked and socially distanced).
Just as I missed being with my family for Thanksgiving, I have missed being with all of you. Yet, by being apart we are helping each other to be safe and caring for one another more than we could by being together during this time.
Zoom does not replace a handshake or a hug. A virtual choir or soloist does not replace lifting a joyful noise to the Lord with the congregation. These are adaptive and experimental changes as we journey through a pandemic.
We have experienced new things that we might not (or maybe even probably would not) have tried during “normal” times. These adaptive and experimental changes have helped open our eyes and our hearts to many things we had missed before. We now more fully appreciate the importance of making worship accessible for everyone, including the homebound and those who are separated by distance for school or work. And we know more fully the responsibility to care for our neighbors where they are instead of where it is most convenient for us.
As we enter the season of Advent and prepare for the birth of the Messiah, we have the opportunity to reflect on the strange year that is 2020 and how we can build on the experiments we have made during the pandemic. Truly this Advent is a time for reflection, preparation, and anticipation.
During this season of Advent, we are guided by the words from Ecclesiastes:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)
May you have a blessed Advent season!
Grace and peace,
Rev. William "Bill" McLean, II
Presbyter for Congregational Care
Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois