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Dreaming a New Normal

If we are wise, we will not go back to the old normal. . . we will go forward. Dreaming a new normal.” Brian McLaren

Throughout this pandemic, I have indeed been praying for wisdom. Not only do I believe we should not try to go back to the “old normal,” but that we cannot go back because it simply does not exist anymore. This pandemic has changed us, opened our eyes to see with greater clarity, forced us into new ways of doing. We must move forward and “dream” a new normal, a new way of being church.

I offer these reflections as I dream, contemplate, and wrestle with the new normal or new way that God is calling us to be the church. This is not a theological dissertation on the meaning of church, an indictment of the past practices and traditions, or even a prescription or blueprint for building a new church. I share these thoughts as a way of inviting you to begin “dreaming a new normal” with me.

It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to Gospel. (Augsburg Confession, Article VII). And, I would add to this definition - to send the people of God out to be the body of Christ to participate in God’s mission to love and heal the world. The church is the gathering of believers. It is in this gathering that we hear the gospel, not just read about the good news, but hear the gospel proclaimed as an objective reality. It is in this gathering that we share in the sacraments, not simply as an individual gift of grace, but as a way that connects us to whole body of Christ, something more, something larger than our own individual agendas. It is in this gathering that we are called and empowered to participate in God’s mission in the world, a mission we cannot undertake on our own. The gathering is not incidental to being the church. It is of primary importance.

In these days when we have not been able to “gather” in person in the same way before the pandemic, we have indeed found new ways to gather through technology. While I deeply appreciate the creativity of gathering in new ways as well as recognize the necessity of fathering this way in order to keep neighbors safe, I do not see this as a replacement for the in person, physically present, gathering. What I have learned during these days is that we need community that is incarnational. We need to be with people not just through technology but in person. Think about why we use that phrase to describe being physically present.

It has certainly been convenient for people to be able to stay home on Sunday morning and watch a number of worship services on-line, but it seems that more is going on than convenience. People are really being touched and fed. The “gathering” has expanded. What might we learn from this experience of “gathering” on line that we can bring into our “in person” gatherings? How can we be more intentional about creating space, opportunities, freedom to simply be (although that may not include showing up in your bath robe!) so that our gatherings a