Things that are passing away

Let us pray:

O Lord, strong and mighty, Lord of hosts and King of glory: Cleanse our hearts from sin, keep our hands pure, and turn our minds from what is passing away; so that at the last we may stand in your holy place and receive your blessing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I spent much of yesterday attending nation-wide church leader sessions (through the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes) with a focus on resilience. I'm in more sessions today. It's been awesome.

So in today's collect the phrase "turn our minds from what is passing away" jumped out at me with great urgency. Many of the conversations I've been engaged in have focused on moving through the wilderness of the COVID-19 pandemic and the affect it has had on our churches/church communities and looking ahead, now that the pandemic seems to be winding down, to new realities. The world has been changing all along, it always does, but sometimes a big shift occurs that clearly and suddenly irrevocably changes everything and we are left with both a longing for the old world and either excitement about or fear of (or more likely a combination of both) what the future world will be. Sometimes our response is just to deny that change has occurred. And then, surely, we die.

The church of course is one of those institutions that prizes tradition and is indeed the bearer of tradition. And we are all aware that the church as we know it is dying or has already died. Most of our churches have been experiencing years of decline. And for most of us, it's easier to tolerate long slow decline than deal with the anxiety of trying something new, taking a risk, moving into a new thing that has no guarantee of success. We cling to old models and resist new ones.

But it is clear from these conversations, and indeed the conversations confirm what I've been feeling for a while, that there just is no going back now. We have to look forward and let go of some of what was and recognize what is in order to embrace what can be. This doesn't mean we must jettison all our traditions or our values. But it does mean living out our traditions and values in new ways that speak to the world as it is now. It means remembering our purpose and finding it again in a new paradigm.

There is grief in letting go, but there can also be joy and excitement about walking into a new day. Many of us have been grieving for a while. Today's prayer encourages me to press forward and turn my mind from what is passing away and toward a new way of participating in God's mission in our world as it is now and as it will be in the new post-pandemic age. I have been encouraged and enlivened by the stories of some of my fellow clergy as they talk about how they are living into the new realities that are becoming manifest in their communities and to hear their joy and gratitude for the gift of the disruption that none of us asked for and none of us wanted and yet all of us have had to learn to live with. 

Change is hard and church change is especially hard. So, Lord, help me focus not on what is passing away but what can be in this brave new world.