At some point this winter, as we came out of the Omicron shutdown, I realized that I had been planning only from week to week for two years. For two years we had all been planning our lives only a few days, or a few weeks ahead. Last Christmas Eve was the harshest reminder of that, as we made plans that ended up being cancelled at the last minute.
When we began planning our family trip out west months ahead, I had to come to terms with imagining how something three months away might go. I had to force myself to be okay with looking into the future and believing that things wouldn’t be upended by a last minute pandemic development.
As it happens, planning for that trip was my gateway to thinking about the future again, both in my family life and at church.
Back in the “before times”(pre-pandemic), I had become a future planner. It took me a few years of ministry, but I eventually learned to plan for fall programs in late spring, to begin Christmas planning in September/October, to start thinking about Lent and Easter in Advent, to begin thinking about late spring and summer after Christmas.
But even more than that, our somewhat predictable “before times” world allowed us to plan years ahead. I have been writing my Council reports with my successor in ministry in mind, even as I began new calls in new congregations with no intention to going anywhere. When I was in the Interlake, the view of our future that we adopted for shared ministry was a one-year, two-year, five-year, 10-year and 25-year outlook. Our hope was to create a ministry that had long-term generational viability, not just extending the runway by a year or two.
This spring my one-year, two-year, five-year, 10-year, and 25-year thinking has resumed for the church. Even though most of my three-and-a-half years here have been focused on week-to-week decision making, I know that it is time to begin thinking about the longer term.
That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over or the next variant won’t send us into another season of adapting to restrictions. This doesn’t mean that unforeseen realities like the war in Ukraine, inflation and recession, the climate crisis or other things won’t sideswipe us.
But it does mean that we have a future to meet, and so it is time we start planning for it.
Our Congregational Council invited the Assistant to the Bishop from our Synod to come and meet with us, to help walk us through the first step of this future-planning conversation.
I have done these kinds of events before and I have led these kinds of events before. But the difference this time is that the world has changed and the challenges that we are facing have changed.
Over the next few weeks my hope is to reflect on some of the things that I took from that visioning session and to get us thinking about having the visioning conversation as a whole congregation.
We were reminded often that Assisstant to the Bishop wasn’t there to give us all the answers and that one conversation wouldn’t figure much out. But she did say that she hoped that, by the end of the day, we would know that our next step was to have more conversation about who we are as a community, about what and how we want to be together and about where God is calling us to go.
And in the end, that was what we needed more than any five-step, foolproof plan to make all of our problems go away.
I am ready to start planning for the future again. I hope you are, too. Because God is calling us to move into the next step, for us, for the Church and beyond.