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New Practices Emerge in Disruptive Times

By Rick Quinn

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Life has shifted for every one of us. New pandemic guidelines have resulted in a rapid disruption of our normal routines. Our lives within the church have also been altered. Communities of faith have scrambled to rethink what it means to be the body of Christ outside of a Sunday gathering in a common physical place.

Such a time can seem impossible, but it also can be the setting where new ways of embodying the gospel can take place, a moment of emergence of new ways of being the church. How can laity work with clergy in this moment to innovate?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

In numerous ways, circumstances often make it necessary to adapt. Often, we think “innovation,” “adaptive strategies,” and “creativity” are qualities that “experts” must teach us to perform. In reality, we’re already experienced in all those things in one way or another.

Like everyone else in this time, pastors have been thrust into the necessity of innovating and adapting. In The United Methodist Church, leadership is understood as a shared responsibility of differing roles and experiences. Laypeople are crucial to this time of innovative leading.

Reach Out

Check in on your pastor/s and offer your willingness to work together to try new things in this season. Encourage them to take risks that extend and embody the vision of your church.

What’s Going On? Innovation and Information

You can be a resource to your clergy leader/s through the ways you, your family, and your neighbors are reacting and adapting to this new situation. Having been pulled back from our previous habits of movement and getting together, neighborhoods and businesses are adapting in creative ways to stay connected.

In a recent Zoom meeting, lay leaders of our church shared with pastoral staff practices of connection they were seeing from neighborhood groups on NextDoor and Facebook. Folks were sharing recipes with homemade videos, organizing children’s activities by leaving puzzles/coloring sheets on front porches for children to pick up with no contact, organizing front lawn sing-alongs, and virtual feasts.

Our church is looking to organize story time for children who are homebound during the pandemic restrictions and seeing how that practice can inform our ongoing ministry to the homebound. What are you seeing online, in your neighborhood, in your household that could spark innovative ideas for the community of faith? See it and share it!

Be Patient and Persistent

Pastors have a new normal too. One of the ways laity can partner with their pastor is to recognize that new social restrictions might mean less free time for the pastor rather than more. The immediacy offered by technology often results in more meetings. I was in a virtual meeting last Monday afternoon, and one pastor remarked that it was her fifth Zoom meeting of the day. So rather than reaching out and asking for a brainstorming session, perhaps let your pastor know that you are putting together some ideas you want to share with him or her. Share them; then look for a time later to discuss, chat, and react.

Embrace the Mess

Creativity is messy! We all find ourselves “coloring outside the lines” right now. Let go of expectations and the way things have always been done and embrace God’s freedom to experiment. Don’t equate creative with slick, polished, or without any hiccups. Not everything you try will work and not everything that works may last longer than a brief season. But laity and pastors may find new practices for the future emerging from these experiments.

What are “We” Called to Be?

This is a time that forces us to reconsider our definition of “we” and our connections. Clergy and laity can explore together what it means to be the body of Christ in new ways. At McKendree United Methodist Church, we have a small-group satellite experience called the “Feast Fellowship,” where people gather twice a month around tables for a simple meal and open conversation about faith and life.

We are experimenting now, taking this ministry online via Zoom or Google meet. It is allowing us to expand the table to a gathering of tables. It is also a meditation for us on those who are kept from tables of fellowship, comfort, and nourishment on a daily basis. This awareness is sparking conversations now on how we address barriers and expand access to the table.

A friend of mine who pastors in a small charge in a rural setting has lay members buying gift cards for those unemployed and gifting them on behalf of the church. We often say without much reflection that the church is not just the building. We have a unique moment to live into that saying, as it is our present reality during stay-at-home restrictions.

Remember, we have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). Be on the lookout together for where God’s Spirit is emerging!

Rick Quinn is a Christian educator and writer who lives in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. He is part of the lay leadership team at McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville.

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