“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
Albert Einstein said that — or at least that’s what google tells me. As the weeks and months go by and the novelty of the immediate crisis fades even as the danger remains, how do we re-imagine church life and find the opportunity within the crisis?
The metaphor of Blizzard, Winter and Ice Age resonates with me.
In “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard analyze three responses to the pandemic through the images of blizzard, winter, and ice age.
“In a Blizzard we can’t go out—zero visibility and hostile conditions. We need to shelter. In a Blizzard, we acknowledge that things are very difficult, provide emotional and practical support for immediate needs, and urge people to take extraordinary measures that not only would be unthinkable in ordinary times, but are unsustainable for long periods of time. If the crisis generated by COVID-19 is a blizzard, it will be over soon, we will all emerge from our shelter, and resume life roughly the way it was before. Our job in a blizzard is to wait it out.”
I remember back in March, there was a sense that we just needed to hunker down for a short time and all would be well. Maybe a few weeks? I clearly remember thinking that we might actually be back in our beloved sanctuary for Easter. That wish was dashed pretty quickly. But maybe in a few months? Crouch, Keilhacker and Blanchard go on to talk about the metaphor of winter:
“In Winter we can go out, but not for long. We need to wear protective clothing and check the forecast for storms. We need to survive. Winter might begin with a blizzard, but it is a season lasting months, not a single event. In cold climates, winter means that periodic acute events (blizzards) punctuate a continuous period in which human activity must adapt to bitterly inhospitable conditions. This is almost certainly the reality of COVID-19 in the United States and many other countries. This will not be an event lasting a few weeks.”
It was a shock to all of us at Heritage to realize that we needed to close down our building through the end of May, then through the end of September, and beyond to ensure the safety of everyone. So, if COVID 19 requires longer term thinking, maybe a different metaphor can help us envision the future. Crouch, Keilhacker and Blanchard propose that we begin thinking of the current crisis through the metaphor of a ‘mini ice age.’
“The metaphor is obvious. Just as winter is more chronic and long-lasting than a blizzard, and requires different sorts of adaptation, which are in many ways more far-reaching than merely hunkering down for a few days or weeks—so there are even larger-scale events that reshape the climate through countless successive seasons. A generally accepted timeframe for the wide deployment of an effective vaccine—though there are huge uncertainties here— is 18 months. But 18 months is not a season — it is, for many purposes, more like an age or an era.”
We need to acknowledge that we are not going back to normal! It seems increasingly clear that the coronavirus pandemic is not just something to “get through” for a few days or weeks or even months. Instead, it is a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives, societies, and religious congregations for years.
What does that mean for our church and our children? We need to begin planning to survive the winter by building for the ice age—to do all that is necessary to sustain connections between our children and youth. To ensure that they know we consider them a vital part of our church community by consistently including them in worship and other online opportunities. We need to consider their well-being in every church decision about programming, budgets and re-opening our building and grounds. We need to build trust through regular, sustained contact with adult members of Heritage in ways that have yet to be imagined.
Throughout the past few weeks I’ve been talking with other UU religious professionals and religious education leaders of other faiths about the opportunities that lie within our current crisis. I’ve been pushing myself to learn new skills – video editing, desktop publishing, and an amazing newer artform, digital story telling — that will help as we envision a way forward for our children and youth.
But I can’t do this by myself. If we want families to continue to feel welcome at Heritage, it will take all of us to build new ways of connection with families, children and youth of all ages.
It’s going to be a wonderful (??) “mini-ice-age” at Heritage. Won’t you join us?