DISPATCHES FROM PALMER STREET #10
When the COVID social distancing began, I assumed it would last for a few weeks, and then we would hear a definitive “All Clear” when we could go back to our favorite stores, restaurants, bars, and churches. Our church attendance would quickly reinflate back to our 2019 “normal.” Well, the strategy of “flattening the curve” worked as planned—our health care system was not overwhelmed. In fact, I hear that patient counts at Milwaukee hospitals are so low that workers are being given reduced hours. Apparently, a lot of elective surgeries didn’t get elected. But flattening the curve also is going to push the duration of the pandemic deeper into the rest of the year. Instead of a crisp and clear signal to resume business as usual, our reopening will be messy, confused, full of controversy, and jerk ahead by fits and starts.
I am now expecting that St. Marcus’ church and school reopening will also be messy and confused. We plan to pay careful attention to the instructions from our mayor and public health officials. But this is new for them, too, and they’re making it up as they go along.
Here are my predictions for how COVID-19 will change our congregational life:
1. It will be many, many months before worship attendance at our three services gets back to 2019 levels.
2. It’s possible that the COVID experience will mean that our new in person worship attendance average will stay lower, that it will not just automatically return to 2019 levels.
3. The digital livestreaming and archiving of all worship services will become a permanent part of our ministry work.
4. The significantly increased amount of video and written digital content that we are producing will continue.
5. Some of our team and committee meetings may mostly move to Zoom and other digital video sharing software. It sure is efficient.
6. As the months go by with so little personal contact among members, relationships will cool off and seem less important. That won’t magically restart. The COVID shutdown is going to do some permanent damage to our friend network.
7. The work of our Care Team has always been important, is urgently important now, and will continue to be vital to our relational network. Please pray for these men and women as they become the voice of Jesus among us.
8. Our increased digital presence has given us a statewide, nationwide, and even global presence. This will blur the lines of what it means to engage at church. We will be serving a lot of people who aren’t on our membership roster, and they will claim us as their “church.”
9. Now that most of us have moved to some form of non-cash, non-offering-basket offerings, people’s giving habits may change permanently. We need to build electronic strategies in our future as core features of congregational life, not just temporary COVID fixes.
10. And yet. In spite of all that disruption, I foresee that close human personal contact will always be valued. Some of our church life will migrate to the web, but there is no substitute for joining your voice full-throat to the singing of great hymns. There is no adequate digital substitute for the human hug. There is no substitute for us older folks to get to be around young children, to enjoy our racial and social diversity, or simply to look into another close human face.
Will you do something for me? Will you pray for St. Marcus today, and will you call two members to check in on them?
Pastor Mark Jeske