Ramblings in the Disruption

I started mowing the lawn Sunday evening, but our lawn is about a half acre and so I didn’t get it finished. I finished the job yesterday. It was sleeting as I got done and shortly afterward it was snowing. Snow on May 11 was a surprise to the financial advisor from our church’s pension boards with whom we met via phone conference. He lives in Florida. He can remember going to New Jersey once and it got down to 20 degrees and he had no jacket. It was really cold. We assured him it wasn’t quite that cold here. We also recalled the true spring blizzard that forced us to cancel worship services on May 10, 2015. Mother’s day was on May 10 again this year, but I didn’t have to shovel 12 inches of heavy spring snow to get out of my driveway.

I’ve always lived where it snows. I can remember seeing snowflakes on the ground every month of the year except August, and I know that it has snowed in the high country near the town where I grew up in August. I just didn’t happen to be up there when it happened. We could see the white on the top of the Crazy Mountains from home, though.

The wide variety and rapid changes in the weather are part of the joy of living in the hills. The saying around here is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” It is foggy this morning and there is a skim of snow on our deck, but the birds are singing and the grass is green and we know that spring is upon us despite a week with some colder temperatures. In a normal year, the cold would be a strain for the people staying in their RVs, but the tourists haven’t really descended on the hills in their usual numbers this year. We don’t know what kind of a tourist season to expect, but we do know that numbers will be lower because people are staying at home to help prevent the spread of the virus.

However many weeks we are into the disruption of our normal with physical distancing and the suspension of in person meetings and worship services, my life is not really settling into a routine. I manage the church’s digital meeting schedule and have to set up the meetings. Most of the time that goes without a problem, but occasionally I realize that although a meeting has been scheduled, it hasn’t been set up on the digital platform. Setting up a meeting involves sending emails to the involved people and it is simply another step in the process. These steps would normally be handled by office staff, but with them working remotely it is less work to simply set up a meeting than it is to have someone else do it. I know that people are eager to help and some of them are underemployed and looking for things to do, but the process of delegating is a bigger challenge with the new work scheme. I’m sure we will learn additional skills and become more efficient as time passes.

One of the challenges of our situation is that we have a vision of things returning to normal, whatever that might be. We don’t intend to remain on lockdown forever. We don’t plan to simply make the transition from being an in-person congregation to being a media church. We long for the days when there will be a vaccine and the spread of the virus can be controlled by less draconian measures. At the same time the health and safety of our people is very important to us. We don’t want to put people at risk. So we balance the restrictions and we long for a return. The thing is, however, we don’t know what a return will look like. We know that some of our people have become more accustomed to the digital meeting format. Some may even be reluctant to return to in-person meetings. If we can accomplish the work of the church without them having to leave their home or office, why take the extra time for the face-to-face meeting? If we have the technology, why not use it all the time? There are a lot of questions about how we will do business after it is safe to get together. I suspect that some things, like live-streaming our worship, will continue after we return to in-person worship. We may even use digital meeting platforms for some of the church’s meetings long after it is safe to return to meeting in person.

The world is constantly changing and certain events seem to speed up the pace of that change. I have a meeting this week to go over all of the church’s technologies and digital operations so that we can plan for a smooth transition when I am no longer serving as pastor of this congregation. Just this list of usernames and passwords is fairly intimidating. Operational instructions for cameras and batteries and projectors and sound systems and recording platforms and tablet computers and the building heat controls and security systems and a wifi network and remote monitoring and so much more all have to be passed on. None of these things were a part of the last transition in leadership in our church. When I became pastor of this congregation, there was no computer on the pastor’s desk. The only computer in the church was operated by a secretary. Now we have a network and a firewall and shared hard drives and much more.

Along with all of this technology comes the need to confess that we are imperfect at its use. I made a couple of mistakes with livestreams on Sunday that created problems for others. It seems that we need a new form of confession and absolution for a new type of human failure. I apologized over social media for the mistakes, but it is not the same thing as sharing a communal prayer of confession with a reconciliation of the community.

It is a steep learning curve and we don’t have it mastered, but we are working hard and learning every day.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!