Dead silence. Not a peep.
This was the response at a meeting of local ministers when a denominational leader asked, “What are y’all thinking about in regards to your ministries in 2022?”
That was the moment that I realized part of the weight that I’m carrying.
Leading in ministry during this pandemic has been challenging in various ways. Nearly every aspect of our ministry has been adapted more than once.
We changed to meeting outside. We adjusted to meeting in smaller groups. We pivoted to avoid overnight travel. We provided opportunities for vaccination. We changed to meeting inside with masks required.
We stopped regular parts of our rhythm and routines, upending parts of our ministry completely and replacing them with comparable, safer options.
We talked for hours and hours on Zoom with experts and trusted advisors and nuanced the differences between a risk and a hazard.
All these adjustments, pivots and changes have been exhausting, but the heaviest weight of all is the inability to dream about the future right now.
Part of the joy of service within the church is dreaming and enacting transformation and change over time. COVID-19 has not eliminated the joy of service, but it has removed the ease with which I once dreamed about the future.
Kathryn Tanner’s book, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, details one of the challenges of financial debt from an economic lens. She says, “First, the discipline of debt makes present and future simple artifacts of a past promise; present and future collapse into a past that continues to make its demands and cannot be forgiven.”
Tanner says that this weight of debt monopolizes the attention of a person and imprisons them into losing the past and future. Suddenly, there is only the present time. Although, instead of simplicity in the present, there is only the present challenge.
“One cannot plan for the future,” adds Tanner.
Living, planning and existing in ministry in its current context can make one feel stuck. It feels like when a vehicle’s clutch is burned out and the current low gear is the only option.
We’re stuck in the present challenge of this pandemic, and an expedited shift back to the exact way things used to be is not going to happen.
Can we choose to dream even though we feel stuck?
A New Earth by Eckhardt Tolle states that a key to happiness is choosing to make peace with the present moment.
“Once you have made peace with the present moment, see what happens, what you can do or choose to do, or rather what life does through you?” he writes.
I have a sense of urgency in efforts related to ending this pandemic on a global scale, but I can also choose to be at peace with the present moment in ministry. Even if it feels slow, or it’s different than I’d choose.
This might involve creating space for questions and embracing a different pace than just planning and implementing.
Planning for the future in my ministry has always been to enjoy the present moment, but I’ve never honestly been able to do that. Instead, planning and preparation have moved from one focus to another with little downtime in between.
Maybe embracing the current state is exactly what we need to do to find hope. Maybe hope was never found in the unknown future, but it was always in the present tense.