Hello dear colleagues. So, we moved through Sunday number 2 in this strange new world. How did it go? I’m not asking if the production values of your online worship were as slick as some TV megachurch. I’m asking, did you feel faithful? Did you feel like you led worship? Tough to do without the immediate feedback isn’t it? Most semesters I record lectures for students in online courses and I find that tough enough to do when the only one watching me is my faithful laptop camera. Worship? Whew. That’s in an entirely different league. If you didn’t take worship on-line, if you feel that there are other ways of being faithful that call to you, if that’s just not your skill set, how are you doing? Does that still feel okay? Remember, it’s a new place for all of us. Kind of reminds me of the earliest days of the church, when everyone was trying to figure out just what this Christianity-thing was going to look like. They had a sense of what they were after but since no one had written the best-selling Ten Sure-fire Steps to a Thriving Church they were all exploring.
Speaking of exploring, I had a thought for you today – if you don’t feel too overwhelmed. Maybe it will help your “overwhelmedness”. Yes, I guess I made that up. As the shock and surreality of the pandemic sinks in, what messages are you taking in about how you are supposed to be in this time? Maybe it’s not as blunt as Daddy Stephen McNeil telling us bluntly (and appropriately) how fed up he is with those of us not practicing physical distancing. But you may be getting the message. One of my students in another Region told me that a mover and shaker in the congregation is talking about how she doesn’t feel they should be paying the minister since they aren’t getting anything – which being translated means Sunday worship. I know many clergy sometimes struggle with a question of worth: “what did I accomplish this week?” With so many of your regular options for ministering closed to you, are you feeling that?
Have you seen the Face Books memes celebrating what Newton and Shakespeare accomplished while quarantining during the plague? So, what’s the matter with you!? Have you tried baking as a form of Covid therapy? Turned your living room into a home gym with cans of beans for weights? Completed the redecorating?
It’s a symptom of the culture which tells us that our value is as producers and consumers. The message is: that which is good can be commodified – including our labour and our time. So, as we try and exercise home isolation and staying in place and many of our workplaces are shut by government order, how do we find the value which truly is ours as beloved children of God? Maybe it’s time to face the truth that many of us have been proclaiming salvation by grace through faith but living in ways that look a lot like works righteousness.
In a lot of places in the secular world, managers are pushing employees to undertake business as usual, even while working from home. I saw one memo that instructed employees to answer work chat messages within a few minutes and leave cameras on during video chats – how your boss profits from seeing the lousy furniture in the spare corner you set up for a home office I don’t really know. Always be available is the message. Are you – or perhaps some of your parishioners – struggling with that? The underlying message is that it’s still possible to prove your underlying worth through work.
There are things to do, necessary things to do. Be in touch with friends and loved ones. Go for – an appropriately distanced- - walk or run. Help out an older or immunocompromised neighbour. But this is not a time to optomize work or stoically pretend that nothing is different. We tend, in our society, not to prioritize care and repetition. But isn’t that a chunk of the Christian message? The regular repetition of acts of faithfulness.
A friend of mine, a solo entrepreneur, gave me some good advice when AST shut down and I started to work from home. “Just accept that you’ll be only 50-60% as productive, because lots of things will be a first and nothing you’re used to using will be where you expect it to be.” Add to that worries over your family; do you have enough food; which stores are price-gouging on items; what will Premier McNeil say this afternoon (no, I don’t obsess about the latter!)?
Ponder this thought: we have the privilege and luxury to work from home (which a chunk of our parishioners don’t), so please remember to use the extra time for things that are generally commodified: care for our loved ones, our families, ourselves. If you can afford it, try and support a local business each day. Maybe reach out to someone you haven’t contacted in a while just to say: “How you doing? I’m thinking of you.” Take the time to not produce anything without feeling guilty about it.
Please don’t look for other work to justify your salary. It will not address your fear and stress, only supress it so that it can appear elsewhere. You have the privilege of a kind of time that may feel new to you. There will be plenty to do when we hit the new normal.
©2020 I Ross Bartlett
©2020 I Ross Bartlett