(RNS) — In each church, in each place of worship and in each theological college there are conversations occurring proper now on how one can rebuild after a chronic pandemic that noticed church attendance dwindle and empty pews changed with on-line worshippers. Greater than two years later, many people are ready for our congregations and enrollments to return to pre-pandemic numbers — to get again to regular.
Which may be a folly and a missed alternative in additional methods than one.
Not solely does an try and return to life because it was earlier than essentially fail to acknowledge the world has modified and there could also be no going again, nevertheless it additionally errs in its assumption that going again is best than driving ahead. Ought to we, as a church neighborhood, try to return to the “regular” marked by the inequities of poverty, homelessness, well being and academic neglect? Do we would like a return to the inhumanity that was racism and anti-Blackness?
These points created the circumstances for our nation’s disproportionate COVID-19 deaths, with poor communities and communities of colour bearing the brunt of them.
COVID-19 triggered profound societal adjustments whereas widening preexisting racial and political biases. Across the nation, racial violence elevated and anti-Black white supremacy discovered air to fan its flames. And church buildings and seminaries got a platform to voice their ideas on these nationwide polarizing points.
This introduced forth new advocates, packages and methods for the church to make a larger affect, which ought to have shifted our cost from returning to regular to rededicating ourselves to a extra simply future.
The church and seminaries now have two choices: cling to their historical past and lose sight of the large progress that has been made or understand we’re in a kairos time that requires us to chart a brand new path ahead. Such occasions are sometimes chaotic or moments of disaster, however they’re additionally intervals through which God is absolutely current and offering a method to God’s future.
For anybody who chooses the latter, my time serving as dean of the Episcopal Divinity Faculty at Union Theological Seminary throughout the COVID period has proven how church buildings and seminaries can develop whereas remaining on the forefront of the “new regular.”
First, we absolutely embraced the pandemic-driven change. On-line church and on-line seminar lessons will proceed to play a vital function in the way forward for faith and theological schooling. Nonetheless, church buildings should broaden to achieve congregations that don’t have sources for on-line worship. These congregations are very doubtless people who serve poorer communities who’re struggling to outlive. They’ll now not be left with out sources for his or her bodily and non secular well-being.
Second, church buildings and seminaries ought to focus much less on gathering and extra on connecting. Throughout COVID, EDS at Union pivoted to on-line programming, however we additionally pivoted in one other manner. Understanding that this period of COVID-19, anti-Black white supremacy and racism was a kairos time, we launched a “Just Conversations” collection to be taught extra in regards to the realities of inequity and injustice that have been normalizing the disproportionate deaths of individuals of colour. We explored what it meant to be a church and seminary amid that.
In consequence, we noticed super energy in making our packages extra accessible so others may additionally be taught. This collection introduced its members not solely a deeper understanding of the problems however a discussion board the place folks may construct deeper connections with one another and with the church.
Church buildings and seminaries have a brand new accountability to extend consciousness of the problems dealing with our susceptible communities. At EDS at Union, we developed the web Anglican Research Social Justice Formation Program, grounded in theological and biblical evaluation to assist us higher perceive our name to confront the disparities in society based mostly on gender, race, class, sexuality and different marginalizing forces.
The net platform offered wider entry to those that are considering participating with these questions from a theological and biblical basis, however who don’t have entry and sources for in-person/residential theological schooling. In increasing our programming to a broader viewers, we found a starvation for theological discourse and a ardour to grasp the connection between the gospel and social justice.
Lastly, for church buildings and seminaries which might be struggling to see the brand new manner ahead, the reply could also be in constructing partnerships with church buildings and different establishments to offer entry to theological schooling. These relationships are mutually helpful as a result of they supply a novel alternative to share data, sources and audiences. If the purpose is to create a extra simply church that exhibits the way in which to a extra simply future, we try this by way of creating partnerships that assist us to develop collectively.
A post-pandemic world presents alternatives for a transformative theological schooling, thus fostering ministries that can foster a extra simply society. We won’t be able to capitalize on these alternatives by going again to regular. Change is demanded if the church desires to proceed to be a related witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(The Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas is an Episcopal priest and writer of “Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter.” She is the dean of the Episcopal Divinity Faculty at Union Theological Seminary and holds the Invoice and Judith Moyers Chair in Theology at Union. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)