Mark Wingfield is a veteran journalist who served for seventeen years in pastoral ministry. He is currently the executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. Mr. Wingfield has now added a new role to his CV.

In an opinion piece published in Baptist News Global on 7 June 2021, Mr. Wingfield has picked up the mantel of prophet of doom, setting his sights on the post-COVID church.

Using family therapy concepts as a lens through which to view the current situation of the church, Wingfield makes a sobering prediction about the future for the Christian church as we begin to navigate the treacherous waters of life after COVID. (https://baptistnews.com/article/get-ready-theres-a-second-wave-of-church-conflict-coming/?fbclid=IwAR3qub1YnVwQKpzCUDu4-JsRGEu93ZiIYw0A5lA1T_4U29lxSvSHamdUAd8#.YL5itTZKhpS – thanks Anthony for bringing this to my attention)

Wingfield points out that when a family has been living through severe trauma, they commonly pull together united in the face of crisis. But when the crisis is over, he says

that forced unity is no longer demanded — when the thing applying the pressure to the system resolves — it may be like viewing a landscape recently flooded by a hurricane. With the pressure removed, the old and new obstacles come into plain view.

Wingfield warns that the post-COVID church may be in for some stormy seas. He anticipates arising out of this impending storm what he calls, “toxic transference.” This is the tendency to shift our anger from the true cause to some imagined culprit that it is easier to identify and more comfortable to blame for our unacknowledged unhappiness. So, Wingfield suggests,

This is why some churches that hunkered down during the pandemic will emerge into new seasons of conflict and illness.

In response to this possible new season of “conflict and illness” Wingfield recommends:

Don’t make any major life decisions for a year after the trauma you’ve endured. In most cases, that’s good advice for churches too. Give some time to let things settle as the church comes back together. Be gracious with one another as if you’re all learning once again how to be and do church.

I have no idea if Wingfield’s dark vision has any bearing in reality. But, I do believe that in most situations, we make better decisions and move forward in a more life-giving direction when we start with waiting, pausing, stepping back, and taking a deep breath. These are the practices of opening. And openness is the best stance from which to find our way through the choppy seas of transition.

“Toxic transference” thrives in an environment of hurry, pressure, personal agendas, intensity, drama, and failure to communicate adequately. Openness is the antidote to this dark unhealthy way of being in community. Communities find their way to openness using the tools of gentleness, listening, kindness, flexibility, and a willingness to put aside personal agendas in order to hear together the emerging wisdom that is held by the wider community.

The days of COVID have been filled with difficulty, tragedy and pain. But in these past fifteen months there have also been moments of luminous beauty, light, truth and creativity. In the church we have found new ways to forge connection. We have shared deep vulnerability and openness. We have discovered new bonds of affection and explored together new ways of supporting and encouraging one another even in the face of the changed reality we face.

It is impossible to know what the future is going to look like. But, I am confident that, as we continue to move together with the spirit of openness, gentleness, mutual support and encouragement that has characterized our life together over the past fifteen months, we will emerge stronger and better equipped to be a presence of light and truth to one another and in the world.