By the time you read this, Tooele County will have made the move from COVID 19 status Orange to Yellow. At long last things are starting to loosen up. At least as far as our state and county officials are concerned, it will now be permissible to gather in groups up to 50 in number. For the people of Mountain of Faith and for a great many other smaller communities of believers, this could be seen as returning to business as usual.
But something tells me business as usual is not coming back anytime soon — maybe never. During this whole pandemic crisis, we’ve experimented with ways to stay connected as a family of faith. We stream our Sunday morning worship service on Facebook Live. We “Zoom” Bible studies, Confirmation classes, and church council meetings. It is amazing that three months ago I had never even heard of Zoom. Facebook Live wasn’t even on our radar. Now they both are fixtures in how we do business as usual. They are part of the “new normal.”
The new normal is what has us all up in the air though, isn’t it? This is truly uncharted territory for everyone. There are things about it I don’t like, things that I do like, and things that I hope will come about as part of it.
It’s fairly easy to identify the things I don’t like about the new normal. Some are merely annoying and even petty sounding, while others are significant issues. At first, I was self-conscious about wearing a mask out in public. But, I got over that quickly.
I don’t like it that people can’t see you smile at them when you’re all masked up. On the other hand, there is something strangely satisfying about walking into Wells Fargo with a bandana covering most of your face. Too bad the tellers there can’t see the big smile I’m wearing the whole time I’m standing in front of them.
I suppose the new normal for us is going to include a lot more wearing of masks. I’m not thrilled by the idea, but I can accept it — grudgingly. What’s more concerning to me is the higher levels of anxiety that we definitely see whenever we are out among people. We’re anxious even when we’re wearing masks and doing our best to stay six feet apart from one another.
People today are most certainly on edge. I got a little hint of that two weeks ago as we moved from red to orange status. Orange status raised the allowable group size from 10 to 20. I figured we could do church “by invitation.” It seemed like a no-brainer to invite folks who had not been able to tune into the live stream. It wasn’t.
I was surprised by how many good, faithful people simply were not ready to put themselves and their families into that kind of a group setting. I dislike that level of anxiety and hope it is not a permanent part of the new normal.
On a happier note, there are some aspects of the new normal that especially as a pastor I actually like and enjoy. Adapting to life with the virus caused us to move quickly to stream our worship service on Facebook Live. I have been very pleasantly surprised at the numbers of people we are reaching each week. We routinely get views numbering several times our usual worship attendance. The new normal for us will include live streaming of our worship services.
And while I miss traditional congregational singing, in the last two months, our vocalist Amy has introduced us to some amazing contemporary songs. I know in the long run they will enhance our worship experience. While we might have gotten to these kinds of songs eventually, the changes forced on us by the virus accelerated the process. And we’re better off for it now.
There is at last one final hope I have for our new normal. It has been my experience as a pastor that during times of crisis, people either will run towards God or away from God — away from their family of faith or towards their family of faith. My fervent hope and prayer is that this pandemic that has caused such anxiety, grief, and pain will cause people to run towards God.
Without minimizing for a moment our need to continue to work on treatment protocols and vaccines, I hope that this crisis turns us towards God in prayer. We can ask for God’s supernatural help and protection while making every human effort to find a cure. These things are not mutually exclusive.
The Bible talks about the times we need to search for God — even when it’s like groping for God while we’re in the dark. But we are assured that God is not far from us even during those times. The spiritual renewal that comes from reaching out to God, finding God, and learning to live for God and one another would be a true blessing in this new normal in which we find ourselves.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.