Thank you for your generous support of our NT-NL Synod Disaster Appeal. Over the weekend just over $3,500 was received from you and from individuals across the country. Thank you. I am grateful for your generosity that enables us as synod to share support with individuals and congregations in this time. Already support for individuals who lost wages during the winter storm has been given, and we have assisted Community of Hope, Fort Worth with their deductible. If you wish to make a gift to this fund you can do so here.
The season of Lent is a penitential time that is intended to help prepare you for the events of the Triduum (the three great days). It is therefore a good time to continue to prepare yourselves for the changes to your lives that have come and are coming in 2021. In this I see four major challenges and opportunities for you in the coming months…
1) Vaccine Rollout: Currently 13% of Texans have received a first dose (NT-NL is more than Texas but bear with me for simplicity). This is encouraging but also means less than 1 in 10 Texans have received both doses. The challenge is in communities where many have been vaccinated, there is an intensifying push to “return to normal.” The logic is simple. If everyone you know has been vaccinated, why not? The opportunity is recognizing that if many people you know have been vaccinated, yet more than 8 out of 10 Texans (including every Texan under the age of 16) have not even gotten a first shot, there are many people you don’t engage with regularly. Your pastor has potentially not yet received a vaccine. So you continue to need to think through how you gather and consider individuals and communities you should protect and endeavor to connect with and serve.
2) Digital ministry: The way that you “do church” has changed forever. You have pivoted, gone online, made big changes. The challenge now is to connect and thrive, digital/online ministry must continue and expand. The opportunity is to prioritize these new ways of being. To reorient budgets and staffing to ensure adequate resources for online ministry. Examining how you structure worship potentially differently for in-person and online communities. To find ways to connect with more individuals proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3) Burnout: You are tired, in grief, and don’t know the extent of the change to your communities yet. Clergy and church leaders are not alone in this. 6,000 coaches are leaving the Texas High School ranks annually and Covid-19 is accelerating that among teachers, health care, and front-line workers. The opportunity is to take grief and loss seriously. To engage in the work of societal chaplaincy, speak Law and Gospel, support leaders through coaching, prioritize sabbath rest, and trim programing to what is truly effective to facilitate proclamation and equips you to serve your neighbor.
4) Leader Formation: NT-NL is a leader in the ELCA in lay leader formation. Our Parish Lay Ministry Academy and Escuela Secundaria de Educación Teológica (SSTE) are models for engaging lay people in multiple languages using the gifts of our own leaders. The opportunity of this time of Covid-19 is that both, along with many of our congregational Christian education programs, have moved online. Making them accessible to leaders across the country, and even the world. The challenge comes thinking about when we are able to gather again in person. How will we do hybrid learning? Will individuals want to gather in person? Are online and in-person cohorts separate? What are the implications of that for our congregations and Briarwood?
These are but four opportunities and challenges before you and your leaders in this time. You no doubt could add even more, and I encourage you to do so. To think critically about how to make these coming months and year productive and adaptive times of learning. All centered on the task for which Lent prepares us. Proclaiming Christ crucified and raised for the life of the world.