Beloved in Christ,
Garrison Keilor used to say on A Prairie Home Companion, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town.” Well, not around here these days! It’s been anything but quiet, all across our country! I am sorry that it’s been a while since I’ve sent you a note. Indeed, the world has been changing most rapidly over the past few weeks, and it’s been hard to keep up. We know that God never fails to attend to the needs of the saints, so let’s see if we can make some sense of things.
COVID-19 Is Still a Thing
First, while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prowl across the face of the globe, many areas including Northern Virginia are beginning to take the chance to reopen. In some cases this is being done slowly and carefully, while others are rushing in where angels without masks fear to tread. It is a difficult balance, as you know, because although the vast majority of those who contract the virus have mild symptoms, those whom it hits hard are subject to deep suffering, potentially lifelong debilitating tissue damage, or death. On the other hand, the shutdown has produced devastation to the economy and those who can least afford to have their work and income disrupted unlike anything seen since the 1930s. We have also seen that minorities have been disproportionately hit the hardest, both by the virus and by the economic storm that followed. These are days that call for wisdom and compassion.
Your session has established a team to plan and evaluate our eventual return to meeting in person at the church. At this point, that team is in no hurry to get back, because the challenges are daunting, and our congregation has such a high percentage of folks in the critical at-risk categories, and we don’t want to put any of our flock in danger unnecessarily. For the time being our online worship experiences and meetings seem to be filling the needs. Nevertheless, we are working hard to make plans that conform to guidelines from the CDC, the Virginia Commonwealth, Loudoun County, National Capital Presbytery, and our insurance company. There is a lot to consider! So because we love each of our members, we ask you to be patient, to pray for our reopening team and session, and to participate in our virtual activities as far as you are able.
Taking to the Streets
The other major development recently, of course, is the nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis police force. While the vast majority of the protests have been peaceful, they were flanked by looters and rioters on one side and police and security forces on the other who chose to use violence to press their point. At the core of the protests is the dawning realization among white Americans that what black Americans have been saying for years is true, that they are far more likely to be treated with violence by police, often resulting in unnecessary deaths, than are white folk. White folks are finally coming alongside to say enough is enough, and it’s time for justice.
A Matthew 25 Church
Your session has been discussing some of these issues for about a year, actually. Last summer we began considering an initiative from the Presbyterian Mission Agency inviting congregations to commit to be “Matthew 25” churches. Matthew 25 includes Jesus’ parable of the final judgment when people will be evaluated on how compassionate they were to “the least of these,” the poor, hungry, naked, sick, or imprisoned, with whom Jesus himself identifies. Hopefully you have heard us talking about this at meetings, in sermons, or in our Lenten Bible study this year. The Matthew 25 program calls us to work for congregational revitalization through community engagement, for dismantling structural racism, and for eradicating systemic poverty. Believing that treating everyone as a Child of God demands no less of us, the session had agreed in principle to all these months ago, although we made our formal commitment to the program just last week. So we are making plans to help educate the congregation about these issues and to begin projects and programs to help us fulfill our commitment, one that we all should have made long ago.
What Were Those Challenges, Again?
To give you a little more information about what being a Matthew 25 church means, here’s what it says on the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s website (including links if you want to read more):
- Building congregational vitality by challenging people and congregations to deepen their faith and get actively and joyfully engaged with their community and the world.
- Dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
- Eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor.
By naming structural racism and systemic poverty, we recognize that individuals will generally do the best they can in a given situation, including loving their neighbors, but that a whole culture acts as a system that only wants to maintain the status quo without regard for who might get hurt. Our efforts will be toward changing the systems that continue to hurt minorities and that keep the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Hopefully you can see why this is such a timely call from the Lord for our congregation, our denomination, our country, and the world.
The Lord Is Near to the Brokenhearted
This year has been deeply challenging. So many things we have taken for granted have been shaken! We shouldn’t be too surprised, maybe, because this is what we read in the prophets in scripture. When God is on the move, the mountains and hills will be brought low and valleys will be lifted up! In this case it has been more metaphorical, but that is no less unsettling. The scripture also tells us that though the mountains shake and the oceans roar and foam, the Lord is our refuge and our strength. So don’t be afraid! God is good and will not leave us or forsake us. If you are uncomfortable about all the changes going on, that’s okay. Change is as hard as it is inevitable. It may be an opportunity for reflection, repentance, and a deeper understanding of what faith in Christ leads us to do. Let us be in prayer then for strength, wisdom, faith, and compassion, and that we might be found on God’s side of the struggles for wholeness and justice in our society.
If you have questions or comments about any of these things, or if you would just like to talk about your thoughts and feelings, please let me know with an email, phone call, or text. I’d be more than happy to spend some time with you. Otherwise, until we meet again, be of good courage and know that you are loved.
Grace and peace,
David Douthett, Pastor