Restaurants have rarely been a big part of my life. Generally, I am pretty happy eating at home.

But even for me four months without a single meal eaten out is pretty unusual. Of course, the only thing that is usual these days is the unusual. So, the absence of dining out is just one more new reality to incorporate into the long list of changes we are all navigating.

I did however, break my restaurant fast this week when I was invited to lunch at a local eatery.  The experience renewed my awareness of how much has changed in the past four months.

There was an entrance-only door at one end of the restaurant and an exit-only door at the far end. There were signs on many tables announcing, “This table is not in use.” The table arrangement left lots of distance between diners. Due to the spacing, the noise level was unusually subdued meaning I did not have to lean in close to my dining companion in order to hear. The servers were either masked or wearing plexiglass shields over their faces. Menus were printed on paper and recycled after each use. And, as almost everywhere these days, the cashier was ensconced behind plexiglass.

Predictably, my lunch host and I chatted about change. Not surprisingly, as we are both clergy, we spoke mostly of change in the church.

As we talked, I looked around the restaurant and realized that everywhere you go now, everyone is being forced to find new ways of doing business. No aspect of our social fabric has been untouched by the reality of COVID. No one gets a free pass. The church should not think we are going to escape the need to make radical adjustments in the way we conduct our life as a community.

The only question in the midst of this landslide of overnight social upheaval is how we are going to find our way in the wake of this disease.  We can resist change becoming bitter and resentful in the face of all that we find difficult and uncomfortable. We can exert our energy and fight to return some semblance of the past that has been taken from us.

Or, in the face of circumstances we are powerless to alter, we can choose to open and expand. We can seek, in the unusual, to find creative new possibilities for being community.

As we seek to move forward, we need to ask not:

  • How can we fix this?
  • How can we get things back under control and return life to as “normal”?

We need to ask:

  • What opportunities does this new reality open up for us?
  • How might we do things in creative ways that still enable us to come closer to fulfilling our reason for existing?

I read recently of a creative new eating enterprise in our local community.

One of the victims of COVID this spring and summer has been the normally thriving tourism industry in our city. The US/Canada border is closed, international flights have only just been resumed on a limited basis. There are no tourists to spend their dollars on the many attractions and activities our city usually offers.

It looked as if one of the casualties of the collapse of the tourist trade would be the 117-year-old horse drawn carriage tours that, in healthier times, transported tourists around the city, to see the sites at the leisurely pace of horse travel.  But, the carriage trade has re-invented itself with luxury picnic tours out into the picturesque countryside beyond the city limits. Each three-hour tour starts at a local coffee shop and, stops for passengers to enjoy a selection of ciders from a popular cidery and a gourmet picnic from a well-known catering company.

Whether or not it can replace the flourishing carriage trade in tourists, the creativity, ingenuity and cooperation represented by this venture are to be admired and emulated. To some degree we are all having to re-invent ourselves. We must all think outside the box. As much as we may not want to admit it, the past is not coming back any time soon. We must look ahead. But, as we look ahead, the question is no longer, what is the church of the future going to look like. The question today is the question of the church of the present.

  • What is the church of the next three months going to look like?

Facing the reality of our dramatically changed circumstances, how are we going to do things in new ways that enable us to continue serving those who look to us for spiritual nourishment and meaningful human connection?

The tools of staying in business today are going to be openness, creativity, ingenuity, cooperation, flexibility, and a willingness to launch out in unusual new ways of being. In the absence of these qualities, we may be witnessing the death of the church that has regularly been foretold for the past thirty years.

******************

nb: at the beginning of our Parish Council meeting last night as we met to discuss what the fall might look like in our church community, I read some wise words written by the late author Richard Wagamese in his beautiful little book, Embers. In Section V, called “Persistence” Wagamese writes:

Nothing ever comes to rest. Everything keeps moving. Even stationary objects are moving, though we do not see it. Change is constant and that means we are not the same from one moment to another either. Our cells are constantly in the process of changing. So if I am moving through a tough situation, there is no point trying to find “rest” so that I can cope. That is impossible. Instead, I can choose to change trajectory, to move in a direction that will lead me toward peace. THAT is always attainable.