By Rev. Alexa Eisenbarth
There is a lot to despair of. I find myself on the verge of great dread regularly. I hope you are floating in hope more often than I, but this verge of great dread has counterintuitively become a source of hope for me.
If nothing changes, in our denomination, country, city, congregation, then the future looks rather bleak. Because we are finally admitting that, change is ignited, change is urgent. Perhaps, in this context, when so much of our ‘regular’ life has gone out the window, we will finally be open to transformations that have needed to occur for a long time.
If something must change, if everything must change, what could the world, our life as pastoral leaders become?
In the last few weeks, a small group of newer pastors (led by a deacon!) have been gathering virtually to collaborate. We are looking forward to transforming our congregations through the foundational Methodist practice of class meetings, are already planning a sermon series/worship theme together, and are resisting the ever-present temptation to compete with one another for who is the coolest and most innovative and most successful pastor.
In two weeks, my heart and mind and energy are freed up for mission! Things that have been on my to-do list for a month (like, making space for and setting up a hygiene closet) are DONE! What more is possible if we actually shared the labor of ministry? What more is possible if we continued admitting, even in the times after the pandemic, that we can not do this on our own, while remaining healthy pastors for the long haul?
I imagine deeper friendships growing among pastors. I imagine greater confidence and conviction in pastoral leaders because their work is being affirmed and shared by pastors they think are awesome. I imagine a world where the congregational capacity for mission expands ten-fold.
Imagining this future gives me great hope! And, it could mean that we are called to do things that make us uncomfortable- like, sharing your pulpit several times a month.
Re-imagining a new world fills me with wonder. And, it could mean that sacrifices — personal and communal — will be required — like, truly acknowledging that our buildings don’t belong to us, but to God.
Investing in this reality is exciting. And, it will cost something – like, the idea of who we thought we might become.
The biblical writers imagined this renewed world as one that is beautiful, “as a bride adorned,” in which there is no distinction between holy places and non-holy places, because “the home of God is among mortals… death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 2-4) The first things are these things: ignored pandemics; systems that defend and demand brutality; dismissed realities of those who are not white, not cisgender, not straight; competition between pastors/churches; loneliness, and more…
The first things will pass away. For some of us, the first signs of those things passing away will be refreshing. For all of us, it will be difficult for us to truly, permanently give them up, to even imagine a world without them, because we have accepted it as normal, or inevitable, have used it as fuel for the fire. When they do pass away, though, God can make God’s home here in a fuller way than we experience now – we will see God face to face. Thanks be to God for a future better than we can imagine. Amen.
Rev. Alexa Eisenbarth serves as pastor of Orting United Methodist Church.