I t goes without saying that life has changed radically in a few short months. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of those differences and uncertainties, especially as things we’ve considered “normal” have changed drastically, from wearing masks at the grocery store to worshiping online.
Despite that, there is much to be encouraged by. Eliza Cortés Bast, Reformed Church in America (RCA) coordinator for Local Missional Engagement (LME) and special projects, posed some questions to members of the LME guiding coalition, who guide and champion the work of the initiative. The respondees are
- LynnAnn Huizingh, a commissioned pastor of discipleship at Faith Community Church in Littleton, Colorado, and executive director of Severe Weather Shelter Network in the Littleton area.
- Laura Osborne, the RCA coordinator for interreligious relations; she lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
- Sue Mulder, the coordinator for prayer and outreach at Centerpoint Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
- Bethany Schenkel, a homeschooling mom who is actively involved in community work in Munster, Indiana, and she has been a presenter for LME.
- Kris Woltjer, the RCA administrative assistant for special projects; she lives in Hudsonville, Michigan.
What is one new local mission idea that you are seeing during COVID-19 that you think would encourage the entire church?
We are teaching/encouraging the concept of home church. Each home associated with Faith Community Church is an outpost for Jesus in their neighborhood. Our new online worship format is designed to model what it might look like for our church families to host neighbors in their own home when we are able to do that again.
Mobile food pantries for students. With lockdown, we know that regular residents, for the most part, know how to get food and resources. International students wouldn’t know those resources outside of the university. Campus ministries have been working together to help get students these needs.
Pitching in for Western Michigan University students: the idea to meet the needs of the students right this minute, which includes free groceries giveaways at various locations.
Intentionally blessing the community outside of our church walls. Putting together “blessing bags” for all kinds of frontline workers. Making sure people who work the night shifts, custodial staff, administration staff are being blessed.
There are so many creative ideas out there. Knowing what talents are in your church and what needs are in your community is so important. For me, seeing people connecting with their neighbors/neighborhoods has been encouraging. It’s a reminder that mission is not far away: it is at our workplaces, in our schools, and in our neighborhoods.
What is one population group that you would encourage the church to be more intentional about during this season? How?
The elderly are very challenged in this season to maintain connection. Most are not particularly tech savvy and are not connecting with the online worship their churches may be providing. Setting up a phone tree with the leadership of the church and the elderly members is one way to maintain connection and to make sure needs are being met.
Immigrants—so many are worried that if they try to access these resources (food, rent help, etc.) they may be reported if they are illegal.
Not sure about the “how,” but I think of the group of people who have health issues and can’t go in to see a doctor to see if the lump is cancerous or are afraid to go the ER if there is chest pain.
Single people—I keep hearing that “just because I live alone doesn’t mean I can do the work of other people who have kids.” I think we unintentionally focus on “how’s your marriage?” or “here’s something for the kids to do.” Single people can get pushed to the side.
I think church leadership needs to encourage its people to be thinking of these groups. Is there a safe space like email or Facebook where needs can be shared and those willing to help can connect?
- For those who are home with kids: what a great way to teach kids to think about others besides themselves by writing letters to elderly/shut-ins.
- Families whose kids are home but parents are working: can someone be a phone call/text message/face-time buddy to help with schoolwork or be there for the “just in case” events.
- Single people (of all ages): this group might have the time to help but do not know where or who needs assistance, and being able to connect with others might help with the loneliness.
- Introverts: we are here, and we are willing to help, but we want a specific job. Introverts can change the world but tend to do it one person at a time.
What are you hearing from your communities that you wish the whole church knew?
I hear again and again from our church members and other neighbors the importance of this season to slow down and be present. Families are re-discovering each other as they are spending so much time together. I hear them talk about how they hope they can maintain at least a portion of this new/renewed connection when everything opens up again. I wonder: How can we as the church empower people to continue to be in relationship with one another and with God first and foremost?
That we can still help our neighbor even if we don’t leave our home.
Quarantine isn’t fun or a special time with family for a lot of people.
What is one encouragement you would give to the entire church? What is a potentially prophetic word you could give to the church?
I don’t believe Jesus was building his church in a building. He said he would build his church on this rock, on the foundation of the Father, and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. I have had this picture given to me that I have been contemplating. I think it has both personal and church implications.
Scripture: John 11:38-44. I see Lazarus raised. Not like in a Sunday school picture. I see him surrounded by the glory of God, golden light, bright. I see his face radiant, eyes full of joy, smile full and ready to laugh. I see his arms stretched out to Jesus who has called him out of the darkness of the tomb and into the bright light of new life. I see the grave clothes falling away as he runs into the arms of the one who loves him so much.
Reflection: I am wondering if this season isn’t a calling out for the church. Have we become bound up in our traditions and complacent in our thinking to the point of closing ourselves into a tomb? Is this virus really about Jesus calling the church out of the tomb and into the bright light of a new life? A new or perhaps renewed way of following him that leads to his kingdom come in the now and the not yet.
God is working all of this for good. We are going to come out better because of it.
Look for him and start each day with a grateful heart.
The church has taken up actively loving our neighbors during this time, and it has been not only a blessing to our neighbors, but also to us and the church. I’m curious what would happen if we focused less on how our Sunday services look and how many people are there, and more on what are our actions (or lack of actions) say to our neighbors and community. What would it look like to debrief our daily interactions with the community the way we debriefed a Sunday morning?
Two things. First: Church, listen. Listen to God, listen to your congregation, listen to your community, but do not be silent. There is a phrase I learned many, many years ago—listen with the intent to understand not to respond. There are needs in our community, but we need to listen to what those needs are. “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord shows him what to do” (Proverbs 16:9 NLV).
Second: To the church leaders, you are doing great. We are all in this new thing together. There is no quick fix, right way, magic bullet. Keep the steady pace, keep your focus on God.