Preparing for Change

By the end of March this year, my grandchildren will be 9, 10, 10 (there is a set of twins in there), 12, 13, and 14. These are the ages where children grow and change quickly. What a year to be away from them so much!
For instance, the thirteen and fourteen-year-olds both have birthdays later in the year. They live in Iowa where the age for a learner’s permit for a driver’s license is 14. That means that both of them will be eligible to drive with an adult sitting beside them in the front seat during 2021. Of course, their parents will have to identify an adult who is brave enough to sit beside them. . . . When our daughters were that age, we lived in Iowa. Our older daughter was hesitant about taking up this privilege and waited. Our younger daughter got her permit on her fourteenth birthday and from that day until she left for college, I rarely drove if she was in the car. 
Like all of the developmental leaps that the children in your life make, the one to sitting behind the steering wheel is kind of a shock. You look over there (sometimes from behind the hands with which you are covering your eyes or while you are pressing your foot against the non-existent brake on your side of the car) and think, “Isn’t this the person who just a moment ago was trying to learn to walk or was putting the classic sign “I hat mom” (she couldn’t spell “hate” yet) on the outside of her bedroom door? And now I am entrusting my life and my car to her! 
We have mostly been apart from each other in our congregations for almost a year. For some of the members of our congregations, it has been even longer because they were at their “Snowbird” escapes when the pandemic hit and had already been there for a few months. It has been a momentous year for all of us with so many changes. What will be the biggest changes that you will notice when we finally come back together in large numbers of people? 
Let’s imagine that by Reformation Sunday of 2021 (the last Sunday of October) that we are back to something that approximates worship on that Sunday in 2019. What will be different where you worship? 
  • Some people who were there two years earlier will not be there. The median age of members of the PCUSA is around 65. That means there are as many people older than 65 as there are younger than 65. Your church might have an even higher median age. Just looking at actuarial tables will tell you that some people will have died or “aged out” of being in person for worship, even without considering the devastation of COVID. Some people will have found other things to do on Sundays or will have realized that church was not really a priority for them. For whatever reason, there may be fewer people when we come back. (Some experts are predicting our numbers will have shrunk by 30%.) 
  • Your building may seem different to you. You may have created an idealized view of your church building because you remember it in its glory days and have not noticed that it is looking a little worn or that it is not really accessible. Or, perhaps, the Building and Grounds committee has used this time to make some repairs or to update some things since it was easier to do them without people in the building regularly. You may walk in and find something that is not familiar to you in one way or another. 
  • The program of your church may change. The session may have taken this time to really examine all of the activities of the congregation to try to decide what is essential and what has outlived its effectiveness. Almost every church continues to sponsor an activity or a group that is only reaching a handful of people or that has lost its original purpose but is lingering because of the fond memories a few people have of it. Maybe the session has taken the time to make some hard decisions to end some programs so that the essential work of the congregation can flourish and room is provided for new things to grow.

Before the pandemic, they were all still children with no one having gone through a dramatic growth spurt. By the time we gather, I may not be taller than all of them; two of them may be able to drive; other dramatic changes will have happened in some of their lives. We will need to find a new way of relating to each other. That new way will still be based on our love for one another nurtured over all of these years. 

When we re-gather in large numbers for worship we will also have to prepare ourselves for changes. We will need to find ways to re-invent our congregations after all of the changes we have been through. Those ways will be new but they will also be based in our call to respond to the good news. In whatever form it takes, we will still be bringing hope in the name of Jesus through all we do.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago