My name is Steven Cole and I am the Executive Director of The Brethren Church. It has been quite a month since I last communicated with you in this way. I don’t need to be another person saying that these are extraordinary times, but here I am saying it to you!!!
I became the executive director almost 5 years ago. Shortly after taking the job, I had the privilege of going to Duke University for training for denominational church leaders. At that training we talked about the quickly changing landscape of the western church. They described it by using white-water rafting as an analogy.
If you have heard me speak in the last 5 years, there is a strong possibility that you heard me talk about this. In the context of that training, we were talking about the changing landscape in the west and the generational shifts we face in the 21st century. The adaptive leadership it takes to navigate a raft down a rapidly moving river is a great analogy for where we find ourselves as a church in the west. But, no way did we ever believe we would come to a moment in our history where the societal changes happen in just a matter of days. Last Monday, the world was playing sports. By Wednesday, all sports had stopped in the U.S. We have gone from a restriction of 250 people in a gathering to 10, as the President announced just yesterday.
We are living through an adaptive time. The analogy of white-water is real now. The landscape of this crisis changes daily. The dramatic affect of this crisis on our daily lives is massive. With that in mind, I want to address you all as the church. In our history in the US, there has never been a time when the gathered church has been scattered. We have enjoyed nearly 250 years of religious freedom in the country. Regardless of what you believe our current or past governments, no one in our history has ever asked us to stop gathering. But here we are today. Not because we live under some tyrannical regime, but because we must distance ourselves from one another for the sake of the lives of those who cannot recover from this virus.
But, God’s call on us as the church has not changed. This is where the white-water comes in. In a raft, on a fast-paced river, you must be highly adaptive to make it through the rapids. This is what we need today, literally This is no longer a mental exercise in theological or sociological studies. We are being called to be adaptive.
Our capacity to adapt will allow us to continue to love God, worshiping him with our whole heart, and loving our neighbors. I have already heard from some of our churches about how they are mobilizing the church to care for their senior citizens in this crisis. One of our congregations has set an email to allow the staff to connect those who need help with those are able to help. Even in Ashland, Oh, we have college students who cannot go home. Our churches here are working with other ministry leaders to care for them as these students are alone in the dorm rooms. The mission of the church continues, even when our mode of worship has been drastically changed in moment’s notice.
As I was preparing for this, we received word that Ashland County has its first confirmed case of CoVid-19. In a small town like Ashland, this means we will now have friends and family affected by this. But we are still the church. So here we are, together at this moment in history. We have a decision to make as a church. My prayer is that we keep our eyes on Jesus and we learn from this moment. In light of this, I have a request for you.
My request is twofold.
- Keep your eyes up, looking for ways to serve. Be creative in your capacity to serve your community. That does mean you need to be safe and consider the presidents/CDC guidelines on social interaction. Let me say that again. Please heed the guidelines put out by our national, state, and local leaders.
But it does not mean we should cease being the church. If you are sick, staying at home is an act of love. If you are well and you know someone in need, serving them in this crisis is also an act of love and an act of obedience to Christ.
- Don’t forget the mission of your church. Your local congregation has never dealt with this before. I know for a fact that your pastor and staff are trying to figure out how to manage the church’s budget in this crisis. It will be hard for them to talk about this publicly because their paycheck is a part of that budget. Please do not stop your giving to those in need because of the crisis. More than ever, the mission of the church needs to be resourced. If a local charity needs help, please consider helping them. If your church has online giving, please use it. It if does not, mail them a check. The last I checked, the Post Office is still functioning.
Finally church, this experience will be a turning point in our culture. There will be a new normal after this. My prayer for the church is that this new normal helps us live on mission in our world today better than before. We are in the raft, we are in the rapids, but like Jesus in the boat with his disciples, we do not need to be afraid.
Be well and safe. Keep your eyes open to what God is doing. Our national staff will continue to work to serve our church. Know that we are praying for you. Please be in prayer for our communities, our country, and our world. God Bless.
Perhaps the Brethren Church might become more 'proactive'? Like working out a way to do Conference this year, online. ...but can't wait on planning this... both do it, and start talking about it now!
Thanks for keeping us informed out here. Now more than ever we need to put our trust in God! It is hard hearing all of the reports on TV, Radio, Newspaper, etc. I have found myself being in prayer non-stop and listening to Christian radio more than ever. Thank you God for being faithful no matter what!
Yes, This situation "Jesus is only the Hope" and GOD is control every things.
Is there any Church in Montreal area, Please let me know.
Thanks and blessings!
Good job on communicating to the broader church, Bro. Steve. As your colleague and as a "friend" of the Brethren Church (since I seem to be Grace Brethren, Brethren Church and Church of the Brethren hybrid) I want to continue to encourage us one and all to look to Him, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, to be our Refuge and Strong Help in these times of trouble.