COVID-19 / peer learning groups

Resist the urge to cling to control

By Laura Stephens-Reed

It was a lovely fall mid-day, if a bit breezy. My husband and I had taken a trip to Atlanta, the city where we met in seminary. We decided to enjoy lunch on the porch at one of our favorite restaurants. We talked and ate chips and guac, enjoying the food, one another’s company, and a break from our dual-ministry lives. At one point the wind kicked up, and the umbrella threaded through the middle of our table – apparently insufficiently attached to its stand – began to lift.

Instinctively, I grabbed the pole to hold it in place so it wouldn’t bean me in the head. I was no match for the laws of physics, however, and I soon found myself lifted up and then deposited on my back, my legs dangling in the air. (Naturally, this was the day I decided to wear a skirt.) Luckily, I came away from this incident with only my dignity wounded.

We’re at a point in the Church when many of us are trying to grab and re-ground the umbrella pole that’s lifting up and out of the table around which we gather.

We’re rushing to get back to “normal” post-pandemic. We court the elusive, expansive, and increasingly absent young family demographic so our Sunday School classrooms can feel full again. We quash conversations about hard topics in order to maintain a tenuous peace. We grasp for what we know out of survival instinct. But if we don’t let go of what seems solid and safe but really isn’t, we won’t find ourselves gathered around the table anymore. We’ll be on our backs, stunned and spiritually sore and wondering what just happened.

It’s not just COVID that is offering this updraft, though it’s giving the wind some extra oomph. It’s a general sense that the Church has been changing – has needed to change – for some time now. God hasn’t changed, but other things have: new awareness of our neighbors’ needs and gifts, new avenues for ministering to and with others, new understanding of how we have unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally, if we’re honest) shut others out.

Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit lifting up and out that protective covering that wasn’t as well-grounded as we assumed. Maybe the Spirit is showing us how much we try to control. Maybe the Breath of God is inviting us to see things from a perspective that’s upside down from the one we’ve always operated from.

Maybe that shift will offer us a humility that will grow us closer to one another and to God than we’ve previously allowed. And then we’ll be able to gather around a much larger Lord’s table, speaking and living our praise for the deliciousness of this life.

Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.

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