Rector's Blog: A Tale of Two Churches
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It’s a tale of two churches.
One is grieving. The church they knew and loved is gone. The building is there, as beautiful as it has ever been, and many of the people are still engaged, and relationships of deep connection, prayer and support have stood the test of the pandemic. But whenever they worship, they are reminded of just how different things are. Sometimes they are required to wear masks when they gather. For months they were not allowed to sing. This is after over a year of not being able to worship in their beloved space at all – having to watch it on a screen in their family room or, if the weather was allowing, maybe worshiping outside in a park. They’ve shown back up, but many of their friends haven’t. Some of their beloved pewmates have died. Others haven’t shown back up yet, out of caution, or because their priorities have shifted, or because they simply haven’t gotten back into the habit. Still others have found watching worship online in their pajamas a comfort rather than a letdown – especially since the church chose to change the time or location – or both – of their preferred service.
It’s not like it used to be – and that’s not just stodgy grumbling. It was something special, this church as they knew it. It was growing and thriving and joyful, and without any kind of warning the doors were closed. When they were all scared, confused, lonely, one of the main ways they knew how to find strength, direction, and connection was gone. Yes, there were digital offerings, and remote Bible studies, and neighborhood groups checking in and creative ways to be church. It was admirable and loving. But it didn’t change the fact that they never got the chance to say goodbye to what was – not really. And now the doors are open and it’s not the same and they are grieving.
The other church is hopeful and excited. They are a mix of newcomers and longtime parishioners, and they notice a warmth, energy, and focus in their church. After months and months of isolation they love just being in a room with other people. That the people around them are kind helps tremendously. Sometimes they get to see the smiles aimed at them, other times, they can only guess at the smiles behind the masks as those around them try to smile with their eyes. The long-timers have been through the ringer. They’ve seen this church grow and shrink and grow and shrink. They know the meaning of thick and thin. They did whatever they could to stay connected and help out during the height of the pandemic, but they were just as lonely as anyone else. Now here they are. Though their church is not new, everything about it feels new – even the old and familiar things. Everything looks different now. Especially all the new faces. They’re excited their church continues to draw in new life.
The newcomers don’t know what they were missing. Literally. They weren’t here before. Many of them found the church during the pandemic, experiencing the church online for weeks or months before ever stepping foot in the building. Some sought out this new church because they wanted a community that took COVID seriously, didn’t try to minimize it. Others found the pandemic to be a natural time to reassess their priorities: Some came to this new church because it’s LGBTQ+ affirming, others for its diverse worship offerings, still others because they are tired of being at churches where only men can lead. Some are simply new to town! The dreaded relocation during the pandemic has drawn them into seeking new community. They checked this place out online and gave it a shot. They felt welcomed. They felt seen and heard. The building is beautiful, the music is fantastic, the people are warm, the teaching engaging. They are beginning to see a home for themselves.
These two churches are of course the same church.
Church of the Redeemer, here in Cincinnati, Ohio.
We are these two churches right now. And it’s very beautiful and it’s very complicated. We can’t easily parse or categorize. The grieving church is made up of people from every worship service and age demographic. The hopeful, excited church is too. It’s not like one service is doing well while another is falling apart. It’s not like older people are uniformly miserable and younger people are uniformly happy. It’s not out with the old in with the new. It’s all much messier, much more real. In fact, some of us are members of both churches. We alternate between excited and grieving, hopeful and sad. We celebrate new life while missing what was. I say “we” because I find myself a dual citizen, equal parts joy and loss.
I don’t feel like I am allowed to be writing this. I should either be raising the alarm that we need all of you who haven’t re-incorporated us into your weekly routine to show up so we can get back into the swing of things, or I should be sunnily broadcasting the powerful and meaningful successes of this new chapter in the life of our church – a community that has shown incredible resilience, ingenuity, growth, and purpose.
But here we are. Two churches in one. I suspect we are not alone. I suspect if you shift a few details here and there, you have the story of many churches across the country, all finding our sea legs together.
I wonder where you are in this messiness. I wonder if you can see yourself in one of these churches or both. I wonder if you can see the other church that is right in front of you. If you are grieving, can you see the hope and energy? If you are excited, can you sense the sorrow? If you are new to this church, please know that this is your place, and that you matter here. If you have been here a long time, please know that this is your place, and you matter here. If you haven’t figured out how or if you’ll reengage with Church of the Redeemer, please know that you are missed. Nobody can replace you.
All of us are Church of the Redeemer. We were brought together by God on purpose and for a purpose. We were made for this auspicious time and no other. It is no accident we are going through this dying and being born together. We are here to know Jesus and grow in Love. And we are here to do that just as we are – all complicated and beautiful and joyful and sad. We won’t resolve it all today, or any time soon. But we will be found and loved and empowered by God and we will follow the Holy Spirit prayerfully into whatever we are becoming.
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