In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord God says through the prophet “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” A large number of those hearing this word were in exile in Babylon. They did want a change. They wanted to be released from captivity in a foreign land. They wanted freedom from fear of their oppressors.
And today, we too are praying for a release from captivity, freedom from the exile to our own homes, and freedom from the fear of illness and death. This has been long enough, Lord. Do a new thing and free us.
I have no doubt though that what most Israelites wanted was a new thing (release) that led back to the same old thing that they were used to - autonomy for Judah/Israel, the Jerusalem Temple up and functioning, sacrifices made on schedule, and God blessing it all.
And I have no doubt that what many of today’s Westminsterites want is a new thing (release) that leads back to the same old thing they were used to - worship in the sanctuary, feeling the organs vibrating notes, not just hearing a recording, choirs functioning, liturgical seasons marked on schedule, and God blessing it all.
There is much worth regaining now as there was for the Jews returning to Jerusalem. But life was not unchanged. The Temple was rebuilt and took a premiere spot in the worship of the Jews. But the synagogue schools and worship, developed in Babylon as a substitute for Temple worship, continued. They provided weekly access for people to meet together in prayer and worship without depending on family habits or on making the trip to the temple. Rabbis gained in recognition as teachers.
I hope church life does not go forward by simply reliving the past. Online worship and book studies and shared prayer opportunities were forced on us by the pandemic lock down. And there are unanticipated benefits. Each week, we have had participants from out of town who couldn’t have been part of our fellowship otherwise. We’ve had guests who found this an easier way to get an experience of our life together.
I think the opportunity God is presenting us with is a new way of getting the Good News out beyond the cloistered four walls of our sanctuaries — We’ve already begun doing so with virtual worship. Why stop now? Instead of thinking it’s either worship in the sanctuary of worship online, why not think of a both/and future.
In my time here, I’ve tried to introduce information about the changes in society around us, changes that impact the church. Studies show fewer and fewer people are wanting to give up their Sunday mornings to go to a church building. They want to sleep in. Read the paper. Have brunch. Go for hike. They’re not saying they don’t want God. They just don’t want access to God to be so limited — only available at 10 am on Sunday at the church building.
I also saw and appreciated how the deacons stepped up and began calling all the church families, not just the shut-in or ill. What a great way to increase the pastoral caring of the church. Pastor and deacons form a team that reaches far more people than a pastor alone could. I encourage you to keep that multiplication of effectiveness going.
Westminster will be gaining a new pastor, who will bring her own skills and talent to the mix. She will be different than your former pastors and that is exactly how God intends it to be. She also adds to the opportunity to explore effectively being the church.
Westminster and all churches have been presented an opportunity to reboot their lives, rethink how to best be the church, and reassess what’s really important. Take the opportunity to breathe in the Spirit of newness.
Make the most of the new thing God is doing.
Rev. Bill Schram began his ministry with Westminster in March 2018 and is the current Interim Minister. Bill attended McCormick seminary in Chicago and met his wife Jenny there. They have served as co-pastors and in separate positions. He has served churches in urban, near suburb, small town, county seat towns in various positions such as pastor, associate pastor, interim pastor, and hospital chaplain. He and Jenny have two natural and one foster daughter. Delightfully, they now have a granddaughter to enjoy.