Even Presbyterians Pivoted

Do you know the old joke about Presbyterians and change? “How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?” My favorite answer is “Who said anything about change?” Another one I have heard is “My grandma gave that lightbulb and so we cannot change it. We will just have to put up with a dimly lit room.”

But look at what you have done in the last three months! None of us could have predicted a year ago or even on March 1 this year how much would need to change so quickly. And you did it. Presbyterians, who are known for creating committees, and making statements that do not lead to anything happening, and sitting in the same pew every Sunday for decades—even Presbyterians pivoted.

Your session has met more than any of them ever wanted to meet to make decisions about the building and worship and the staff and applying for government funding (who could have imagined that!) and what to do with the preschool and the mission program and on and on.

Your pastor figured out how to use their phone or that video camera that they hadn’t touched in years or a conference call number or the US mail to keep in touch with parishioners and conduct worship in a way that, in many cases, is reaching more people than doing things the old way ever did.

Your Sunday School teachers and staff have found ways to help parents fill the long hours at home with children by providing resources and reading them stories on zoom.

Your musicians have navigated the choppy waters of licenses and sound-mixing and microphones that work well in a sanctuary with people in it but sound like an echo chamber without those people to provide you with beautiful and inspiring music. You could continue this list for your own congregation into the myriad ways you have changed.

As we migrate closer to our church buildings, let’s not forget how resilient we have been. Keeping in touch at a distance is not the only challenge we face. The world is still not all that interested in what we have to say. People may be even less likely to get dressed up and travel to a sanctuary and dedicate two or three hours of their Sunday to worship after what they have experienced. We still have big, old buildings that are using huge amounts of our church budgets or falling into disrepair. The challenges we faced before the pandemic will be with us when we settle even farther into a new normal. It may seem like things really don’t change.

But here is what has changed. We know we are resilient. We know we can act fast. We know that we are brave enough to launch into something we do not know very much about. We know that our leadership teams and sessions can make decisions without studying something for years. That is new information to many congregations.

Don’t forget what you have learned. The whole world may seem like it has turned upside down and in some ways it has. And we turned with it. Because what hasn’t changed is the gospel and our imperative to share it in a way that changes people’s lives so that they may come to know the same hope we know in Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago