Changing how we practice faith or practicing faith to change us – Pastor Thoughts

I  have always found the juxtaposition between Lent-Holy Week and Spring a little odd-feeling. 

Lent walks us through a somber and solemn season toward the darkest point in the Christian story. Meanwhile our season is changing as winter ends, snow melts, days get longer and, if we are lucky, the greens of spring start to appear. Mid-week evening prayer services in particular start out in dark evening settings but often by the end of Lent and because of the time change are taking place in full daylight. 

Now this is a particular feature of the Northern Hemisphere, as our Southern Hemisphere siblings experience Lent and Easter through fall into winter (and Christmas in the middle of summer!). For my seminary cross-cultural component, we travelled to visit CLWR projects in Peru. It was odd to arrive on January 1st – the middle of summer – to Christmas Lights, Santa displays and many, many nativity scenes and Feliz Navidad signs during the 12 days of Christmas.

The way that our local contexts impact our experience of faith can change how we practice being church together. Most church folks don’t really notice however because you have to move from church to church to see it. 

My first congregation in a rural farming community told me that the best time to have bible studies, meetings and other programs was after harvest in November and before seeding in April. 

With all the cottagers here in Manitoba, I know some churches have just cancelled summer Sunday worship altogether or tried mid-week services. 

And of course these past two years, the way we have practiced our faith has been deeply impacted by the pandemic and all the measures we took to keep one another safe. 

This week while reading an article about pandemic faithfulness, some of my own thoughts were clarified by this article in The Christian Century entitled ”My spouse is also my pastor (it is not about pastor-dynamics ). Here is an excerpt:

I began to realize this after almost a year of worshiping online, sometimes attentively chatting and liking and humming along, sometimes watching on my phone while Arsenal FC flickered on the big screen, sometimes listening while riding my bike. I wasn’t worshiping; I was going through the motions. I began to realize that my pastor was no longer a mediator but more of a proxy. As long as she was doing the work, I didn’t have to.

I wonder if this is one of the scars or fears or possibilities COVID has laid bare. Stripped of the presence of people, we are left to ask questions of what we believe and do and are beyond the simple act of showing up at a building on Sunday.

Because I pre-recorded worship for much of the past two years, I was also watching worship in my PJs with a coffee on Sunday mornings. Even though I was the one presiding and preaching, I could feel that watching worship was missing the essential element of being active and engaged. That person on the screen was doing my faith for me. 

(Don’t hear this knocking down online services. They were essential during the past two years and continue to be essential means of making church accessible in ways that we weren’t before). 

Without an ounce of judgement, I also know that as a pastor, becoming a proxy for faithfulness has been happening for years if not decades. I know that the line between helping people grow in faith and practicing faith on their behalf has been an ever blurring line. Reading the bible, praying, serving the community and telling people about God’s love has been shifting from something that pastors help people to do into things the pastor does for people. There are a lot of complicated reasons behind this, from the clericalization of the church to a world that doesn’t know Christianity as it once did. 

The result is that even as life-long church goers, it is becoming more and more difficult to make space and room for the practices of our faith to shape and form our lives. Because there is this other direction that things can and should go on this two-way street of faith. Yes, things like geography, history and culture, local traditions and community affect how the church goes about its day to day, season to season ministry. 

Yet there is also the way in which the rhythms and patterns of our Sunday to Sunday lives, our season to season journey of faith changes and shapes how we live the rest of our lives. Whether it is finding time to read the bible, pray or watch a devotional on YouTube each day. Whether it is giving something up for Lent. Whether it is joining a small group, signing up to give rides to church, volunteering to bake cookies for the Urban, or to be a sponsor for the splash program. Incorporating faith into our day to day lives takes on many shapes. 

But there is also the way in which our faith reminds us how God’s loves makes us worthy, God’s grace and mercy reconciles us, God’s Kingdom has room for us, the Body of Christ needs us. And that this changes how we are in the world with family, friends, at work, in the neighbourhood and beyond.

We are in a place of destabilization and deconstruction as individuals, as a society and as a church. As the structures that undergirded our lives are stripped away, we are left to start again building up our world and our lives. And that begins by understanding anew who we are – our identity. 

In Christ the foundation of our identity is assured – beloved children of God. Now figuring out what it means to be beloved children of God in this Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung, zoomed out, extremely online, pandemic weary world as Winnipeggers (or people from wherever you are from) trying to live this life of faith together in 2022 and beyond. 

I am excited to find the answer to where God is leading us together. 

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