By Rev. Grayhame Bowcott
My last article to HCN was buoyed by my enthusiasm for upcoming Christmas celebrations: an outdoor community carol service was about to take place, we were watching the RSVPs for our six Christmas services fill up, and a great deal of positive energy was building as we looked forward to welcoming both familiar and new faces over the holiday season.
Chalk it up to what a ministry colleague of mine has called “the great 2021 year of the muddle,” but none of these hopes ended up coming to fruition. At least, not in the ways that we had imagined them.
Our community carol service was envisioned as an opportunity to host local families and children in a safe, outdoor setting. Our congregation had made quite an investment to plan the event: costs included buying over 3000 Christmas lights, hiring an electrician to automate our light displays, purchasing candy canes, Timbits, and hot chocolate for 250 people and then a number of donated costs such as bringing in a portable stage, lighting equipment, a generator, outdoor fireworks and I’m sure I’ve missed an item or two. St. George’s boldly invested thousands of dollars in an idealized community event…. and then disaster struck!
On December 11, the date planned for our outdoor family event, 100 km/hour winds tore through the Blue Mountains, blowing over chairs and knocking out our lights. Freezing rain and sleet poured down on our volunteers as we attempted to set up for our event. An hour before the service I found myself despairing – there was no way that anyone was going to show up. In fact, it wouldn’t be safe to host the service anymore. After so many disappointments in 2021, this final blow was crushing – even for this optimistic priest!
In the moment when I had decided to give up on this event, suddenly something unexpected happened: despite the winds, sleet and snow, car lights began to flood into our parking lot. At first it was the faithful members of our choir, and then the members of the two additional choirs we had invited to join us. These were joined by St. George’s volunteers who showed up unperturbed by the abysmal weather and asking: where can we help? Lastly, both parishioners and community guests began to trickle in. All in all, they numbered more than 70 participants.
I was both deeply moved and shocked to see so many people huddling together in the middle of this storm waiting for me to make a decision on what to do going forward. And so, I prayed: God, what would you have us do? The response that immediately came to me was this: pivot!
Rallying both guests and volunteers we moved into the church building, spreading out however we could safely be socially distanced: in the parish hall, in the sanctuary, in the chancel and in the hallways in between. I watched as kindness and patience prevailed, with neighbours helping seniors into the building, and church volunteers welcoming newcomers out of the cold.
On that night there was a moment that will stick in my mind for years to come. It was the moment when Christmas caroling began to sound from every available crevice in St. George’s church. Having been denied the chance to sing for most of the pandemic, it was overwhelming for me to hear the many voices coming together: upstairs, downstairs, young and old.
In our frustration and disappointment, had we made the decision to simply cancel the event we would have missed out on this great blessing. Had we not chosen to pivot in the moment we would have not experienced this beautiful moment of resilience and faithfulness.
While it is true that all of our local families with children (with one exception) chose to stay indoors on that night, and that the event cost the church thousands of dollars to host without even a collection plate being passed around, and that the Timbits and hot chocolate for 250 people never left the trunk of my car, God was still very much in the details of what ended up taking place. God was found in the flexibility of our volunteers and joyfulness of the community gathered around prayer and singing.
And yes, as the December weeks progressed, our in-person Christmas services were all cancelled and replaced with a live streamed worship service hosted by a handful of volunteers. And yes, our family gatherings were limited again this year to very small numbers and households. However, I continued to be amazed at the faithfulness of our church as it pivots with each of these challenges and disappointments. Even in these difficult moments we are seeking God’s help to pause, to pray, to reassess and to pivot into new possibilities.
While 2022 may continue to bring us both challenge and hardship, may it also bring us the gifts of flexibility and faithfulness to address them. May God help us all to embrace the spiritual artform of the pivot!
Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains. firstname.lastname@example.org