June 2020 letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
As the coronavirus was spreading through the Seattle area in early March, Corey Schlosser-Hall, our executive presbyter, set up a video conference call for pastors in our presbytery. With things changing daily—and even hourly—the call was designed to help pastors catch their breath, share their thoughts, catch up on the latest news, and support one another through the pandemic-fueled chaos. That call was so helpful that Corey set up a second one… and then a third …. It has now become a weekly event and a vital support for me and many of our presbytery’s pastors. (It has even inspired a bi-weekly call for church administrators.) About three weeks into these calls, Corey invited everyone to check-in. We went around the virtual room as people put positive spins on their experiences, sharing how they were managing and talking about all the new and creative ways they were transitioning to online worship and virtual gatherings.

Then came one pastor who said something along the lines of: This really stinks and I hate it! I miss everyone and being online is no substitute for seeing everyone in person. Plus, the technology curve is so steep that I’m exhausted. I was immediately struck by this pastor’s honesty and how many of the things he said resonated with me personally—I found a kindred spirit. Since then we have exchanged emails, texts, and calls to check in on one another from time to time. We began by mostly commiserating but soon transitioned to talking about how to use the new streaming video cameras our churches have purchased. We’ve shared all kinds of things we’ve discovered and compared notes about producing and sharing worship in electronic form. The point is we went from misery to creativity by stumbling along in the COVID-fog together—and even finding ways to embrace the reality of what our new normal will be like for a while.

My reading of the Book of Acts tells me this experience I’ve had with a brother in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. None of us likes the way things are or have to be right now, but we cannot deny there are some powerful things happening in the midst of the misery caused by the coronavirus and the shutdown of our economy. We see an explosion of new expressions of worship and resurgence of time-tested techniques—like calls and notes—for staying connected. I sense people are praying more. I’ve witnessed numerous acts of generosity as people have shared out of their abundance to help others in need. And we have all come to reflect on how blessed it truly is to see one another in person—even from six feet away, and sometimes through a mask. These are not random acts of kindness or sentimentality but the genuine work of the Spirit to bring good from bad, hope from despair, even life from death. This is nothing new. Since the earliest days of the church, the Holy Spirit has been empowering God’s people to meet the challenges before them so they could continue to bear the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

In fact, what spread the gospel the most in those days was not the careful planning and strategizing of the apostles but the powerful hand of the Spirit that supported and emboldened them to persevere in the face of persecution. Remember how the Gospel left Judea? It was because the stoning of Stephen, a deacon, led to a persecution of Christians that sent them further afield. The message of Christ eventually makes it to Rome, but not because of the Jerusalem council and their decision to open a path for Gentiles to become believers but because Paul was sent there in chains! None of us could have planned for such times, but that does not mean the Spirit cannot bring something tremendous from it. Whether we like it or not, we are learning some new things, appreciating some old things more deeply, and beginning to move beyond simply managing to a place of thriving. We may not be fully to the thriving mode yet, but we will get there—if for no other reason than this is what the Spirit does and has been doing since the church began. May this season of Pentecost bring about a renewal of our faith in the work of the Spirit who continues to expand the footprint of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in and through our fellowship, and even in such dire times.

 
Godspeed,

matt sig