Fall, like spring, is a season of transition and change. Chilly nights, shorter daylight hours, the changing colors of the leaves, and even the calendar invite us to return to our familiar schedules of life in the church, our work, and school.
However, this fall is not like anything we’ve experienced in the past; the familiar and predictable can no longer be taken for granted. Even the store advertisements which, in the past, had promoted back to school sales have carefully adapted to entice people to update their wardrobe and decorate their homes with fall themes. It seems that everything around us is in a season of change and uncertainty as we continue to navigate our lives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, economic challenges, calls for racial justice, concerns for public safety, and a national election.
I am reminded of the words which the Apostle Paul wrote to the people of Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1Cor. 13:12 NRSV). The dictionary explains that to see “in a mirror, dimly” means to have an incomplete or obscure view of reality, and acknowledges that this expression comes from St. Paul who explains that what we do not see clearly now, will become certain at the end of time.
These uncertain times feel unclear and incomplete to us now. In fact, seeing “in a mirror, dimly” can even bring to mind our current reality of “seeing” each other virtually on screens, through masks and shields, and at a distance, an existence that also feels incomplete.
Nevertheless, even though we are living in a world that seems unreal to us, God promises that one day all will become certain. In the meantime, we have all learned in the past six months to adapt in our various contexts and remain faithful to our calling and responsibilities as children of God and members of our congregations and communities.
Many of you have expanded your use of telephone, mail, and technology to connect with each other when it is not safe to do so in person. As I’ve met with the pastors of the Synod, I have marveled at the creativity and resiliency of our pastors and congregations in addressing the ever- changing challenges with which you are faced. For those of you for whom outdoor or other distanced worship has been possible this summer, you have continued to be mindful to minister to the vulnerable who have not been able to join you, as well as including the newcomers who have joined you through digital means in these times. In addition, you have acknowledged the reality that indoor worship and activities as you have known them in the past may not be possible in your context going forward, and have made alternate adjustments and provisions.
You have used digital platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Facebook, email, and telephone to conduct the business and educational ministries of the congregation. In similar manner, I have also been working through email, telephone, Zoom, and other platforms as I’ve shepherded the domestic and international ministries of our Synod and met with the congregational leaders and pastors of our Synod, regional bishops, the ELCA Conference of Bishops, various committees, as well as the boards of trustees of Women of the ELCA, Muhlenberg College, and United Lutheran Seminary.
The challenges of these times call us to be nimble, creative, and resilient as we tackle how best to serve God and God’s people in an ever-changing landscape. Into what innovations has God’s Holy Spirit invited you? How are you adapting your fall ministries and congregational events this year in the face of the current challenges? What does spiritual enrichment, pastoral care, and education look like in your congregation in this world of technology? As you think ahead to Advent, will there be a renewed commitment to Bible study and prayer? Let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!
These are challenging times for pastors, congregations, and communities. We are living as if we are seeing through a mirror dimly. For alongside faithful ministry and care for others, we are experiencing a sense of grief and lament for what was and is not possible now, fatigue as we continue to function in changed ways, as well as experiencing the uncertainty of how things may look very different in the future. An interesting article addressing this grief and why we should not give in to the temptation to give up is found here. Here, the words of the Apostle Paul can encourage us: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all….” (Gal. 6:9-10a NRSV).
Beloved in the Lord: I encourage you to faithfully go forward in hope, for it is precisely in the time of change and uncertainty that God is present with us. In the words of Scripture: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Ps. 31:24 NRSV). “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jere. 29:11 NRSV).
You remain in my prayers that our gracious God will bless you and keep you well. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13 NRSV).
+Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek