By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
I set out on my morning walk to plan what I wanted to write for this column and I struggled. That is until I figured out that it was my walk that was the road map I needed for the message I wanted to share.
Let me explain.
I walk the same route every morning. If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to keep the discipline to go that distance every day and to find the spiritual benefits of a walking conversation with God. Yes, there are days that I make small changes; to avoid a construction zone, miss a bunch of school buses and a variety of other reasons. Over the years I have added a few new loops to make the walk longer, and within a week or two, those loops are part of the route!
This is reflective of my personality as well. I like to have routine, to do things in the same order, at the same time. That allows me to be sure that I have completed all required tasks.
Now, I consider myself a creative person, and I know for a fact that I can fly by the seat of my pants with the best of them. But that is only because I maintain that routine. If I'm on my walk and I see something in the distance that I want to investigate, you can bet that I break the route and go see what's up! But once the new experience has been absorbed, it's right back to walking the day-to-day route.
This was what I needed to frame my thoughts about what is ahead for church as the pandemic lifts and to give some consideration as to how I will handle the continued bumpy road. It all started with a simple question, “Who is coming back and when?”
I can't wait to get back to the routine of church life, but I know many others are not so keen. Many have told me how much they enjoy doing church with a coffee in hand on the couch. Others are intrigued about having multiple worship services as easily as changing the channel on television. I'm sure there are those who have simply gotten out of the habit of church and may well not bother to get back into it at all. I certainly don't feel the same expectation in the community around getting back to church as say for a return to live theatre, live sports or a variety of other pastimes!
For the last 18 months or so my routine-loving self has been forced to pivot over and over to find new ways to do things under ever-changing regulations. I freely admit that at times I have struggled to adapt to new ideas to reach out in new situations. Like many other people, I don't do change all that well.
But change we must! As people struggle to feel confident and secure in returning to “in person” church and others are either asking how can I get involved because this pandemic has me asking questions about God and faith, while others are wondering if after 18 months away they need to go back at all; we (and I mean we as in all of us) need to find new ways to listen, to hear, to support, to love and to care for people.
We need to share the Gospel message of love as widely and in as many ways as we possibly can. That will mean we all need to step out of our comfort zones and find new ways to interact with others in the discussion of faith. The church has been up and down as long as there has been church. I think it is fair to say that we have enjoyed tradition and routine a little too much. It's time to change our walking routes and explore new areas and understandings.
Having thought of that little gem at mid-walk, I decided to veer off and take a different route. It worked for about 10 minutes, until I arrived at a familiar corner and went right back to the normal route for the balance of my walk. Seems I have some work to do on more than one level!!
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James' Westminster, London.
(Featured photo: Loic Leray/Unsplash)