Joy in small steps!

The church’s transformational commitments begin with “mustard-seed signs,” the primate writes. Photo: Marinelam
Published May 1, 2024

As I write this in late March, I’m mindful that we recently passed the fourth anniversary of the start of the lockdowns due to the pandemic. In March 2020 we were suddenly confined to our homes, shocked at the speed with which COVID-19 caused chaos. We wondered whether the church would survive being unable to gather in person.

We wondered whether parishioners would ever feel safe to return to gathered worship. We began a learning curve with new technologies and ways of connecting. We feared that the prediction alluded to in the January 2020 headline of the Journal, “Gone by 2040?,” might come true, and even sooner!

We continue to live in the aftermath of the devastation caused by the virus. We did not emerge from it unscathed. Some people have not returned to gathered worship. Some parishes that were on the edge of survival before the pandemic did not have the resources to manage the changes. There is much grief as congregations discern what is next, whether it is letting go of a building, merging with another community or disestablishing as a parish.

However, as I travel across dioceses, I am hearing other stories—stories of hope and renewal. Many continue to offer livestreamed worship that connects parishioners who are shut in, elderly or travelling, as well as curious faithseekers. Family members dispersed around the world now worship together. Those faith-seekers discover an online community that allows them to explore Christianity. Dioceses continue online daily midday prayers or compline. Zoom has become a useful tool for some kinds of meetings, especially those which would otherwise involve travel across great distances or through inclement weather. We are already a different church in many ways.

Gathered congregations, though smaller than they were pre-pandemic, are growing again and not just with former parishioners. New people are exploring faith and worship as reconfigured priorities have brought spiritual questions to the foreground of their lives. I hear discipleship talked about in diocesan strategic plans and with joy by people engaging faith conversations in new ways.

Many of these signs of hope are small. They may involve only a few more people in worship or a single conversation with a seeker. But “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.’ ” (Matthew 17:20-21) Our transformational commitments begin with these mustard-seed signs.

I remember, in the early years of my ordained ministry, meetings of clergy where there was a competition to hear who had the most people attend Christmas or Easter services. Success was shared through numbers. We are discovering afresh, in small ways, that the power of the gospel continues to be at work. Our task is to be a partner in that work. Our measure of success will be the joy of these small signs that reflect our baptismal promises.

I trust that these small steps will turn our eyes and our hearts away from grieving the losses and decline toward a constant curiosity that asks, “Where is God at work around us now?” Our call is simply to be faithful and trust God is here in us, through us and around us.


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