“Life After Covid”
May 14, 2020
Rev. Dr. Paul Miller (GUM consultant)

It’s been my privilege to work with Guelph United Ministries, helping the United Churches of Guelph create a more collaborative future.

Like most people, I found my work interrupted by Covid 19 restrictions. Many of the events I planned to do have been cancelled. Many of the tools in my toolbox are of no use when we’re all confined to home.  

On May 7, I hosted a G.U.M. “Town Hall” discussion (on line, of course.) People from the different churches came together to talk about this question: “How is Covid 19 changing the way we experience church?”

Twenty-nine people participated. Here’s what I took away from our wide-ranging and lively.  

First, this is hard. Really hard. No question that churches are struggling with plummeting income, suspended programs, cancelled events, isolation, disconnection.

Imagine if this past Christmas (which seems a lifetime ago) someone had told you that by Easter all of our churches would be closed indefinitely. What would you have thought? I know what I would have thought. “Disaster! We’ll never recover.”

Certainly we miss our community life desperately. We are all hungry for the connection we used to enjoy.

But there was a sense that, when this is all over, we will realize how easily we  have taken for granted simple things like face-to-face conversation or human touch. And, having been deprived of these things, there’s a chance we will return more committed to being with one another and caring for one another.

Second, it’s amazing to see how resourceful and resilient we are becoming. Against all odds, we found ways to stay connected. We’ve quickly become adept at using Zoom and YouTube. Who says that old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

And people at the Town Hall talked excitedly about how valuable those new skills will be even after we are able to get together again. We have experienced the potential of technology for enhancing our connection – not replacing face-to-face community  but providing options that are able to include more people in more ways.

We’ve experienced the potential of technology to expand our reach beyond the number of folks who show up on Sunday morning or Wednesday night. We’ve been surprised to see that way more people are tuning into our live-streamed or recorded worship than we find sitting in the pews on a given week.

Third, our attitudes have changed. People talked about how this forced separation is making us more intentional about using “low tech” tools like the telephone to stay in touch with folks who may not have computers. We’re putting more effort to caring for the lonely because we don’t want to leave them out.

When so much of our busy routine has been interrupted, we’re finding a little more space to reflect on the things that are truly important. We hope we’ll carry that reflection with us  into the post-Covid world.

Everyone knows the church has to change. But change is hard. One of the greatest barriers to change is our inability to imagine that we could survive without the things we’ve gotten used to – choirs or coffee hour, our favourite pew or our regular time of worship.

Well, we’ve been forced to do without those things and, even though it’s been really hard, we’re making it work. Maybe, just maybe, this experience will break down that barrier of imagination and make us open to embracing bolder and riskier changes when the world gets back to “normal.”

For some of our churches, the Covid 19 experience might be a blow from which they cannot recover. On the other hand, it might open our eyes to new and unexpected opportunities to serve Christ in changing times.

It could go either way. But based on what I heard on May 7, I’m hopeful.   ~ Paul