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During the COVID-19 Pandemic, one of the greatest stressors is uncertainty. No one knows for sure exactly the right thing to do. Almost everyone has never been down this road before. A few people have seen somewhat similar crises. HIV/AIDS. Ebola. Sars. But no one alive and serving in a leadership role has ever passed this way before.
Medical experts, researchers, prognosticators, futurists, and science fiction writers have projected the possibility of this type of pandemic. Yet no one has seen exactly this type of situation. Those who have come close to seeing this are not in the top leadership positions to decide the actions that will be taken. Those in the top leadership positions have a steep and accelerating learning curve, and a tendency to listen to their own counsel rather than the counsel of others. They blow an uncertain trumpet.
Every pastor of every congregation is in a similar situation. They and their staff plus lay leaders must make decisions about responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic for which they have inadequate time and clarity about the way forward. They have plenty of information — some good and some bad. They have plenty of people with opinions — some helpful and some unhelpful.
They have plenty of pressure from their congregations — to regather or not to regather. They have plenty of opinions about how to regather — masks required, encouraged, or the celebration of a mask-less gathering. Even if pastors share messages of certainty about regathering, they are still uncertain about the trumpet sound they are blowing.
It would help pastors if the road to regathering was a straight path. Those who advise pastors — like me for example — have sought to give them a framework and even anticipate phases for regathering. Yet all of my observations and predictions are also based on a hoped-for straight line of incremental progress. I try to look, listen, and assess various voices and sources of information and knowledge to come up with some wisdom to share. Yet even the sound my trumpet is producing has an uncertainty factor in it.
I predicted when congregations stopped gathering that it would be between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day before they could regather on a limited basis. That range has held true for many congregations. I also had a mid-term projection that it would be July 12th before congregations would be regathering with ease and beginning to move toward a more complete regathering schedule. My long-term thought was that it would be Advent before congregations would be fully open and approaching their pre-COVID-19 vitality, vibrancy, and attendance.
Neither the mid-term or the long-term are certain, so we will have to see what sound and with what certainty the trumpet blows on those benchmark Sundays. Of this we are certain, the regathering has not been a straight line. What if there is a second wave?
Some congregations who have started regathering are blowing an uncertain trumpet. Attendance is generally at 50 percent or less of pre-COVID-19 attendance. Some exceptions exist. More senior adults have regathered than predicted, and fewer families with children have regathered. In many congregations childcare during worship has not rebooted, and any children brought to worship sit with their parents.
The spike in the infection rates in many places has caused early attendance numbers to drop in some cases on subsequent Sundays. This has led to a pause in the regathering in some congregations and caused congregations who had not regathered to consider delaying their regathering.
For the second time in three weeks I have been contacted on Friday evening by a pastor whose congregations had regathered but now has new information about infections in their fellowship that forces them to consider returning to online-only within 36 hours. Talk about having to blow an uncertain trumpet! But they really have no choice.
Also, talk about responding to congregational members who still wonder if this is all a hoax, or if we need a herd mentality where everyone gets the coronavirus so the wider population builds up immunities — never mind the additional people who die as long as they are not in their immediate family—or we need to demand our freedom of religion to assemble for worship, or we need to trust God more so no one who comes to worship will get sick.
These are not uncertain trumpets. They are a cacophony of trumpet players blasting away with a different tune at a different tempo.
In the midst of all this, congregational pastors, staff, and lay leaders are to blow certain trumpets? It is a humanly impossible task. It is a season like every season where discernment of the voice of God is the only thing that may give us wisdom to see our way through this difficulty and be able to blow a certain trumpet. Anything else is just foolishness as humankind fights against God rather than follows after God.
May all pastors and other leaders have the spiritual confidence to blow a certain trumpet as God goes before them. Please lift them up in prayer. Speak words of support. Take helpful actions. Never accuse them of blowing an uncertain trumpet. They are blowing the trumpet they have.
George Bullard, www.BullardJournal.org, June 27, 2020