Christ is Risen, Indeed! The Easter season lasts 7 weeks until Pentecost (this year, Pentecost is on June 5th). In this Easter season, we remember that the disciples experienced the risen Christ as we experience the arrival of spring, as the old hymn “Now the Green Blade Riseth” sings:
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
As we emerge in this “pre-post-Covid” time, many of our churches gathered in person for the first Easter since 2020. Some are resuming fellowship with food; others are remaining cautious in care of their elderly and immunocompromised members. One thing we know for certain: our ministry will contain an online component for the future. We have to. Our neighborhoods are no longer the streets around us but the digital reach of our website, streaming and social media.
The Commission on Congregational Mission is hard at work putting together a survey to help your congregations get the support and help they need for technical assistance. This survey will help the Commission pair up churches with volunteers who can assist congregations with needs for upgrading and learning new technology.
We are also recognizing that many of our clergy have carried heavy burdens during this pandemic time. My hope in the next year is to provide space and opportunities for clergy to find respite and renewal. We will be providing spaces (online and in-person) for clergy to gather, to share in their needs, and to have time of retreat and rest. I encourage church leadership to make sure your pastors are taking their days off every week and vacation time. I also hope church leaders will recognize the need for mental health care and provide time and funding, whenever possible, for that care.
I also know many of our churches have experienced loss and grief: death of loved ones, inability to hold funeral services, people who had to move during the pandemic and were unable to say goodbye in person. Many seniors in assisted living facilities have not been out of their homes in two years and may never return to visit in person while they are alive. Church leadership may be wondering how the church will survive moving forward.
And yet, “like wheat that springeth green,” life grows again. We are experiencing a new chapter, with new possibilities for digital ministry and hybrid opportunities. For far too long, churches have been focused on how many people attend Sunday worship and how much money comes into the plate as metrics of success. The pandemic has forced us to shift our thinking and our values. It’s forced us to change our methods and technology. It’s caused us to shift our inward thinking about growth away from the metrics of dollars and people, to outward—how we are reaching people with Christ’s love and what resources we can share.
This shift has been desperately needed for some time. While we didn’t need a pandemic, we did need a wake-up mind-shift. Your region, the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin, is experiencing this shift. My goal is to spend less time in my office over the next year and instead spend more time in your churches, meeting with your pastors and lay leaders, and cultivating this new harvest in this new season of growth.
I’m encouraged! I see so many opportunities for growth and change happening in our churches, large and small, rural and urban. I see models of intentionally inclusive ministry in multicultural settings. I have experienced the love and care of your ministries that reach the most vulnerable in our state. The hospitality and welcome you all have shared with me is an extension of the love you share for one another and for those whom we have yet to meet. Some of our churches and leaders have the ability to be examples and teachers for us. I hope we will create opportunities to learn from each other in the next year.
In this Easter season, may we know the harvest is plentiful, even if it’s just beginning to sprout forth. As we travel through this “pre-post-Covid” time, navigating the changes and precautions to protect the most vulnerable while moving forward, may we look to the new life Christ has sown among us. May we help one another grow, moving away from inward surviving to outward thriving.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell