By Laura Stephens-Reed
When I open my home office door after a coaching call, I hear it: the blessed sound of silence. It has been all too rare over these last fifteen months, since my husband has also been working from the couch and my son has been virtually schooling from our den.
I describe myself as a raging introvert. The word “raging” encompasses both the extremity of my introversion and the feeling I get when I haven’t had alone time to think and recharge. I want to curl my overstimulated body and mind into a ball and hibernate for a season.
I know that not everyone is an introvert, raging or otherwise. But we all do need moments of silence, of reflection, of pause, to re-connect to ourselves and to God – even the verbal processors among us. In these moments images and phrases that come from somewhere beyond ourselves, unfiltered by noise and activity, can surprise us. Whether these messages delight or challenge us, they nudge us forward in ways we had not previously considered.
I think that right now, we as the Church need to take a beat instead of rushing headlong into all the programming and meetings we held pre-COVID. Haven’t we been on pause long enough? you might wonder. Yes, we were either not gathering in person or were social distancing for many months. But church leaders shifted into overdrive, working harder than ever to keep people cared for and connected. Many church members discovered a different pace of life, whether it was a more harried version that has worn them out or a slower tempo they’ve found they prefer.
Beyond the people themselves, the Church is different. We’ve found new people to connect with and new ways to do things. We better understand a congregation’s importance as a relational hub for its constituents. We’ve realized that our church is a vital partner in the community through the help we offered during the pandemic or that we’re not as relevant to our neighborhoods as we thought when no one beyond our membership noticed we weren’t meeting.
For all these reasons, it’s time to stop and pray and wait on a word from God. What does all this mean for how we are Church going forward? What new awareness do we have about ourselves, personally and collectively? What shifts do we need to make to pursue God’s purposes more faithfully? What do we want to keep from our pandemic practices, and what from our pre-COVID world do we not want to add back? All of these are conversations worth having with one another. They also provide us a reason and a structure to gather with the people we’ve so fervently missed and worship God without running full-force into a crowded calendar.
The pause is not passive. It is not under-functioning. It is active and invitational. It is a space for seeking wisdom so that we don’t re-busy ourselves so quickly that we find ourselves raging, whether at overstimulation or an opportunity to do things differently that we’ve lost.
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.