As I close in on the milestone of 45 years as an ordained pastor, I can honestly say that I have never experienced a time in the life of the local parish such as we are now in, this COVID19 pandemic season.
More than any other event, the virus has upended most of the ways we have been conditioned to understand “church.” The old ways of experiencing church involved lots of congregational potluck suppers, singing and prayer; the bodily intimacy of standing one behind the other as we moved forward to receive communion from a common cup, and the literal passing of the peace wherein we embraced while declaring, with our faces inches apart, “May God’s peace be yours,” or “The God in me greets the God in you.”
None of that is possible now if we want to keep ouselves and our neighbors safe from passing/receiving the virus. So, what does church look like now and how will we evolve toward that newness?
Some have said that what we are entering, whether we wish it or not, is “the season of the Holy Spirit.” If this is true, how might church life look any different from how it has looked for the last half century? For one thing, I think the Holy Spirit is a disrespecter of mortar, wood and brick. She loves to find “God-shaped holes” in church buildings and pour through these, – a gust of air that refreshes the space between human beings and God and between one person’s heart and another’s. Sometimes after she has entered the space, we are either gently nudged or caught up in the whirlwind, pushed or spun toward truths we have long since left off exploring or even thought worthy of our curiosity.
The image I associate with the Holy Spirit is breath, wind. But to use these words is only an attempt to use something in the physical world to describe an element that is hard to name. In ancient Hebrew two words were used to distinguish between the life force in humans (nephesh) and the spirit (ruach).
The life force, or nephesh, was not so much “breath” in the way we witness the terminally ill body expire its last breath, as it was “blood” for the Hebrew people. The power of blood was what changed lives and forged new covenants between peoples.
Ruach, to the Hebrew believer was used to describe “personhood” or the power by which each of us is recognized as being ourselves. But it is also, simultaneously, the power to immerse ourselves in an other….such that my spirit, for example, is never uniquely mine in the same way my body is mine. Spirit is manifest when it both defines me from another while also connecting me to the other. To know Spirit, is to have our attention commanded and then to feel a communication between what our eyes see (the other) and what our hearts know (that I am one with that other). This communication comes from outside ourselves.
This may be a fair description of what happened when many of us watched the last nearly 9 minutes of George Floyd’s life. Following the searing pain of seeing a black man murdered while calling out for his mother in that fashion, led us, as witnesses, to a deeper place inside us where, to put it simply, “We saw a new truth about the solidarity of humanity that we can never unsee.” As a huge group of witnesses, we were given a moment of liberating insight which no one of us could have received singularly- and this impact has made a difference in how we understand our selves – we cannot be unless others are also able “to be”. Such moments change our minds and lives forever. This changed quality gives evidence to the work of the Holy Spirit – this givenness of grace in community that comes from outside us, but allows the ground of our being to shift ever more slightly toward shalom wholeness – the knowledge that we are each one and all one.
The new Holy Spirit church may spring up in our streets, or at the seaside, as we begin to hear the dying sighs of mother earth in the new stillness of the globe. We will have to find new language to describe what it means to be a ‘member’ in the church of the created world and of the streets and of the subways and alleys and prison cells. “Empathy” may become the bullseye that church communities take on as a measure of their maturity as a community rather than striving for increased size of the congregation or diversity of programming and mission.
The Church of the Holy Spirit may also become a more deeply praying congregation. It may begin to feel as if intercession is not enough. Saying the Lord’s Prayer is not enought. “Enough” will be praying as Jesus did – praying as if we were continually in conversation with our Heavenly Father, never doubting that God hears, living constantly in the awareness of God’s light and truth. In this way, we would not “choose a mission” but the Holy Spirit would choose the mission for us and send us out to accomplish it. We might then think of ourselves more often as “the church in the world” not the “church in the sanctuary.” We would definitely think of ourselves as “seekers who, as we discover more and more deeply the heart of God, come to know our true selves better and better.
There will be a day when the doors of the sanctuary are open again. We would be wise to practice the prayer of stillness in our places of sheltering so when the virus has scoured away all that is NOT essential to life, we will rejoice in what is…..to experience anew the playfulness and wonder, the intimacy and power of being bound together in the Spirit’s bands of love and chords of compassion.
Where can I find FCC Worship Services?
All of our services continue on Facebook and YouTube through the end of June unless the state Guidelines for NH and the United Church of Christ guidelines for churches change dramatically. All are welcome and you can reach the link by clicking on the home page of this website on the facebook icon. Services go on-line by 8AM most Sunday mornings, and comments and reflections are always welcomed.
Lectionary Readings and Sermons for July
July 5, 2020 Sacrament of Communion
Scripture Reading: Psalm 45:10-17
Sermon: “The Journeys we Choose”
July 12 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34
Sermon: “A House Divided”
July 19 – Seventh Sunday in Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:24-30
Sermon: “Wheat and Weeds Together”
July 26 – Eighth Sunday in Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:26-39
Sermon: “Weaving the Future”