This past year has been filled with lots of what if questions. What if we are not able to gather for worship? What if we are not able to gather for fellowship events? What if students are not able to go to school? What if people are not able to go on vacation?
Instead of answering that we cancel worship or school or fellowship events, we adapted and experimented with new things. And the amazing thing is all the wonderful ways that people have answered these questions through virtual events, outdoor gatherings, physical distancing, and so many other experiments. It is a reminder that when we set our imaginations free, we can (and will) come up with incredible possibilities.
A variation on the what if questions of the past year, is a question that focuses on who we are as a congregation and the varied roles we have in the community . . . If your congregation was suddenly not there, what would your community be missing?
Just as the questions about worship and fellowship events during a pandemic caused us to think in new ways, this question asks us to consider new possibilities. What can we learn from the question, what would our community be missing if our congregation suddenly disappeared?
Would anyone notice?
What are the ways, both large and small, that your congregation cares for your neighbors? Maybe you allow outside groups (like AA, scouts, 4-H and others) to use your building for little or no rent. Maybe you host a grief support group to help neighbors who have lost loved ones. Maybe you provide meals to older members of the community or gloves for school children.
If we step back and look at all the ways that we are serving God and caring for our neighbors, I think we will often be surprised just how large an impact each of our congregations have in their community. This is not meant to be an exercise in self-congratulations or self-recognition, instead it is intended to help us appreciate that rather than being limited by scarcity we have instead flourished through the gifts and generosity of so many.
We might not be able to host an event for ten thousand people, but by collecting and serving the loaves and fishes we are able to feed the hungry and comfort the lonely. By focusing on the what ifs and not the limitations, we can celebrate and expand the new ways that we are reaching people that we could not even have imagined less than a year ago.
May you be filled and guided by the imagination, energy, and love of God today and always. Grace and peace, Bill Rev. William "Bill" McLean, II Presbyter for Congregational Care Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois