I am an autumn person. I love this season when things get colder and we pull out the sweaters and extra blankets, drink warm cocoa or cider and watch the leaves fall and prepare for winter. I like this time when things slow down a bit outdoors. I know this is not a universal feeling, that come spring I will have felt cooped up for far too long and be ready to get out in warmer weather again, but for now, I can appreciate the beauty of this season as we near the end of 2022.
This is the first year we can really say we are pre-post-pandemic. We had vaccines rolling out in 2021 but with different variants of Covid, many of our churches chose to go remote only to keep others safe up through this spring. Even those who remained in-person at times kept (and still keep) mask requirements and temperature checks. We’re not through it yet, and none of us have gone back to our life before the pandemic.
We’ve had to learn to do things differently. The pandemic sped up some decisions that we knew we needed to make a while ago, and I know some of our churches are still working on shifting, but overall we have embraced online giving and online worship as a form of participation. In a world where few of us write checks anymore, and the pandemic made us weary of handling cash, those who have gone to online giving have recognized the value of setting up automatic payments and easier ways for people to give. Online worship hasn’t become an alternative to in-person; instead, it is a form of communal worship. We know that immune compromised folks, seniors, and those who live far away can now participate with us, no matter where they are.
It’s easy for us to grumble about what we have lost in terms of convenience. For those of us who grieve, this is a real loss. Over one million people in the United States, and over six and a half million worldwide, have died from Covid. Thousands more live with the effects of long Covid. Our lives have been changed forever.
Nonetheless, some of the changes we have made are necessary, such as accepting people who will continue to wear masks for their own protection. Before the pandemic, we might have thought it strange. Making online accommodations for participation in worship, as well as Zoom meetings, online Bible studies, and other opportunities have all been good things.
Our region has made some dramatic changes in the last year. Offering hybrid opportunities means that people can engage from a distance, or when they’re not feeling well, or something comes up that would make it impossible to drive to a meeting or event. We are beginning to offer new trainings for our church leadership, lay ministers, and clergy. Smaller group gatherings that allow us to get to know one another better and reduce risk of illness. Our camping and outdoor ministry programs changed to make campers safer and even offered some online opportunities for gathering last spring when cases were on the rise.
We know that the last few years have been hard. About twenty years of change came in only two years. People have not returned to in-person worship as we had hoped (this is across all denominations throughout the country). We’re still in the midst of understanding these shifts in participation and in our culture in general, but we are open to where the Spirit is moving.
As we enter the last two months of the year, I am grateful for the opportunities God has given us to look back and see where the Holy Spirit has been at work. I am grateful for the new insights and innovations and ministries that have come forth. I am grateful for our pastors who have navigated these changes and hung in there, even when technology failed us on Sunday mornings, and for church members who remained patient when things seemed to change Sunday to Sunday. We are in this together.
In pondering this past year with gratitude, will you consider supporting the ministries of our region? Individually and as a church, your mission giving is what supports the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin: our camping and outdoor ministries, our trainings for church leaders and ministers, our guidance to churches in pastoral transitions, and much more. Next year, our theme for our Annul Gathering (October 13-15, 2023 at Green Lake) is Next Generation Ministries: focusing on both the need of ministry with our youth and young adults, as well as cultivating the next generation of ministry leaders. What does God have in store for your church next? For you?
We are the most diverse denominational body in this state. There is no one else like us in Wisconsin, with our churches of different cultures and languages and theologies and worship styles, covenanting together in our shared faith in Christ to do mission together. Consider what you can do to help support the work of Christ through the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin.
I am grateful for you, and grateful to be part of this wonderful ministry together!
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell