“Never underestimate the amount of pain and heartache that will come through your church doors on any given Sunday.”
I remember those words distinctly, though I received them over 30 years ago now. It was shared by one of my seminary professors at Chicago Theological Seminary, and I have been reminded of that statement and its deep wisdom countless times during all my years of ministry since.
It has never been more true than it is now. And it’s not just true of those we encounter in our churches. It’s the case for those we pass in the grocery store and in traffic, for patients and workers in every health care setting, for teachers and students and parents and administration in educational institutions, and the list goes on. No matter where or how we cross paths with people these days we can be sure each person is carrying their own daunting mix of exhaustion, grief, anxiety, frustration, and more.
I observe this heaviness amongst our pastors, our chaplains, our lay leaders, and our congregations too. Relationships are frayed, volunteerism is down, motivation is low, and worry looms large. Patience has worn thin. Our normal capacities to navigate conflict or crises in healthy ways are diminished. We’re worn out by the constant questions forced upon us by a pandemic that just won’t quit.
As this new year begins, I don’t underestimate the burdens and heartaches we’re carrying. And so this is my request of each of us:
Let love and grace lead you.
This is a time when bountiful heaps of grace are required, when perfection is impossible and forgiveness should flow. This is a time when love needs to burn more brightly and be shared more generously. And these are all gifts we have been taught well by the Jesus we all follow. In fact, these are practices of faith that Jesus commanded us to embody in the living of each day. As Christ’s Church, whether gathered or scattered, I hope love and grace are plentifully evident in the ways we work and worship together and in the ways we navigate the world and encounter one another. Especially when times are rough.
I pray for each of us a new year that is abundant with possibilities and led by love and grace.
—Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister