March 15, 2022
Dear Sisters and brothers in Christ,
Grace, mercy, and peace, in the name of the Triune God. It has been two years since we shuttered the physical doors of our churches to protect one another from Covid-19. On March 15, 2020, Moravian Church Without Walls hosted its first virtual worship service from the Provincial Church Center in Bethlehem, PA. At its recent meeting, the Provincial Elders’ Conference reflected on these past two years and offered prayers of deep gratitude and thanks to all in the church—pastors, lay leaders, tech support folks, faithful parishioners—for being the hands and feet of Christ every day in remarkable ways. Thank you! As we look back on this time, it offers a good opportunity for us to ponder two questions: What have we learned about God? What have we learned about ourselves?
We have learned that God was, is, and always will be present with us, individually and collectively, in ways that were overwhelmingly obvious and wonderful and in ways that were barely noticeable. God was redemptively present with those who tragically died of Covid—even in an otherwise empty ICU room. God was graciously present with those who grieved—isolated and distanced—with funeral services delayed. God was happily present in the families waving to loved ones through the windows of nursing home. God was quietly present with those whose homes were crowded with children learning and adults working from home. God was gently present with those whose homes were too quiet with just one inhabitant. God was inexorably present through computer screens, phone calls, and cards of encouragement sent through the mail. God was courageously present with those who volunteered to gather and deliver food and other necessities to those in need. God was and remains present.
We have learned that we are far more—and far less—than we ever imagined possible. We remain imperfect people, who have not loved our neighbors as we ought and have left undone those things we ought to have done. We discovered that it is far easier to be critical of others behind the safety of a computer screen and far more difficult to listen deeply to those with whom we disagree when we are not sitting at table with them. We learned that our fear and anxiety about Covid and our own mortality made us less tolerant of one another and less patient with ourselves.
We learned that we are faithful to God and determined to discover ways to worship the Lord through creative means we had never tried before. Phones, cameras, and computers became vehicles of proclamation, grace, and fellowship. We discovered that it’s OK to ask for help from others who can guide us through the skills of live streaming, YouTube, FM transmission, and Zooming. We invented workarounds, weren’t afraid to fail on camera, and sang solos to empty sanctuaries—all to proclaim the love of Christ. We learned how to look up and digest CDC guidelines and make decisions about vaccinations and masking or not masking. Decisions we made made some people happy and other people angry. Pastors got caught between PEC guidance, Joint Board discernment, and parishioner feedback. We learned how to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion online. We missed the physical presence of people gathered in a sanctuary, a Sunday School classroom, and a fellowship meal. We are simultaneously fragile and resilient. We remembered that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As we move beyond this second anniversary, how might we use what we have learned about ourselves, one another, and God to shape our lives and witness going forward? Even as we begin to remove masks, sing heartily, receive Holy Communion in our pew, enjoy a Lenten soup supper, how might we extend grace to those who have not yet—or may never—return to our physical sanctuaries? How might we acknowledge that while many of us want to “return to normal” we have traversed into a new reality—a new way of being, a new way of worshipping, a new way of bearing witness to God’s transforming love in the world? As individuals, as communities of faith, and as a province, we have the opportunity to explore how we live and move and have our being in these days. How might we receive what we have learned about the God who creates, redeems, and saves so that we might respond with faith, love, and hope? What does that look like for you? What does that look like for your community of faith? May our continuing journey through this season of Lent toward Easter joy give us the opportunity to ponder all that we have learned as a springboard for our next steps of faith.
In Christ’s abiding love,
Elizabeth D. Miller
The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller is president of the Provincial Elders’ Conference for the Moravian Church in America, Northern Province.