Back and better than before – this has been our experience of our church reopening in-person gatherings after Thailand’s exapnsive COVID lockdown.
Volunteer engagement is up. This isn’t just numbers, but also a renewed sense of excitement and buy-in that pulses through our teams now. A deep enthusiasm, that comes from knowing we’re part of something dynamic, is a wave we’re all riding.
People are excited to be together. We’re a chatty bunch of downtowners to start with, but after service the conversations linger and turn into lunches out together. We’ve had people start driving 2 hours to be with us on a Sunday morning – something that was unthinkable pre-pandemic.
Being present – physically together in this case – is something we long took for granted. This season of separation has reminded how special it is to be present together. Playing in the background, Joni Mitchell is reminding us, “that we don’t know what we got ’till it’s gone”. More than before, we are confident that there is something intangible and life-giving in the gathering of our faith community.
This season of separation was not without challenge but it also came with reward. It was not a waste and we refuse to write it off as some meaningless blip in our regularly scheduled programming. Collectively we were forced to re-examine how we ARE the church beyond how we DO church. Some of these were reminders of truths we held loosely and some were new insights that we overlooked before. We are working on memorializing them, building them into our everyday, and trying our best to not let go of our desire to BE and not DO.
Personally, we have returned to in-person gatherings with deeper connections to people we only knew shallowly before. In the absence of the Sunday hustle, people were intentional to check-in with one another. We had a baby during a pandemic lockdown and the care and encouragement of our church was still present – even though no one stepped foot in our apartment.
“The new normal” still shapes how we get together. With limited numbers, social distancing measures, and mandatory masks, this has not been a return to how it was before. And this is not a bad thing. There are some things from before that we are happy to leave there. Of course, there are things we miss – like hugs and food in the lobby – but we are just so jazzed to be together that those missing things do not feel like lack or restriction, but rather, the pathway that lets us get together.
The pandemic experience varies wildly depending on where you are in the world. It is very possible that you are not yet meeting in-person. It is very possible that you are not yet getting a taste of the new normal which only smacks of the old normal. Wherever you are at in this pandemic journey – be encouraged. This is not for forever. There are beautiful and powerful lessons to learn and grow in. The return to in-person may have you seeing growth you only dreamed of before this pandemic.
Even with our church meeting in person, the road ahead is still strewn with question marks. We are not “out of this” – whatever that means. Instead we are walking out the next steps in this journey. Rules will fluctuate. Regulations will change. In the midst of it all, we continually endeavour to BE the church.