Usually I’m one to head into a new year filled with fresh motivation and vigor. There’s something about putting up a blank calendar with a full year ahead of me that gives me renewed energy and hope for the future. This year doesn’t feel that way. How could it?
Instead, I’m entering this year with three words in mind: grief, gratitude, and hope. I believe holding on to these three words can help us begin to process the year behind us and look forward to the year ahead of us.
As of the time I wrote this article, nearly 63 million people worldwide have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 1.5 million of those have died. Some congregations have experienced significant financial losses this year: decreases in giving, loss of rental income, staff lay-offs, even church closure. I heard someone remark the other day, “I wonder if 2020 has made us too comfortable with death and loss, I wonder if we’ve lost our ability to grieve.” Experiencing so much loss at a distance can make it so difficult to process our grief in the ways we are accustomed to. It can be tempting to want to step into the new year, leaving the losses of the last year behind us. I so much appreciate Pastor Catherine Malotky’s reminder at the end of Advent that we are called to help people be good stewards of their grief. Space for lament is vital for our healing process and the church is best-suited to provide this space whether online or in-person.
2020 taught us to be grateful for the things we so often take for granted. We’ve given thanks for technology’s ability to bring us together during this disconnected time, the opportunity to better connect church to our daily lives at home, the rhythms of the church year which lend structure to a time when days seem to run together, and the leaders who have carried us through this tumultuous time. We’ve also found a new level of appreciation for the things 2020 has taken from us: handshakes and hugs as we “pass the peace,” breaking bread together, and singing in harmony to our favorite hymns. From a financial perspective, many leaders have found creative ways to keep the congregation afloat and have seen the steadfast commitment members have to a church’s mission even when we aren’t gathered together in person. May we find healthy and helpful ways to give thanks in the midst of our grief.
Finally, with our grief and gratitude in tow, I think we can also lean into the ways the Spirit is leading us into a new future. We can begin to dream new dreams once again. As we head into 2021, here is where I’m seeing glimmers of hope on the horizon:
- Weathering the Storm: According to the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving’s COVID-19 Congregational Study, 59% of congregations have experienced an increase in giving (28%) or are doing the same as this time last year (31%). Despite the gloomy predictions at the beginning of the pandemic, most congregations are weathering the storm fairly well. The average change in giving year to year with congregations overall was a decrease of 4.4%. With proof of resilience, I hope many congregations will begin to release their scarcity mindset in favor of one of sufficiency—a mindset focused on having enough, not an excess.
- Giving is on the Rise: According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s 2020 Second Quarter Report, in the first half of 2020 giving increased by almost 7.5% compared to the prior year. Interestingly, this increase was primarily due to an uptick in small gifts ($250 or more) in the second quarter of the year. Despite the economic impact of the pandemic, people are still willing and eager to give. I hope this generous spirit continues into 2021 and we resist the urge to forget our neighbors in need as our lives shift into a “new normal.”
- A Move Toward Funding Forward: More congregations than ever are looking for sustainable funding sources outside of the offering plate that align with the congregation’s mission. We were overwhelmed when over 100 people expressed interest in hearing more about our learning community and we are eager to begin our first learning community later this month. We hope to do even more with this topic in 2021 so stay tuned to learn more.
- Deeper Connection with the Neighborhood: Being confined to our homes and the mass health and economic impact of COVID-19 has caused individuals and congregations to become even more aware of who their neighbors are and find effective ways to serve and learn from them. For many congregations, the pandemic has helped them to strengthen community partnerships and better understand the needs of their neighbors. I hope this deeper connection with the neighborhood continues in the new year.
- Acknowledgement of Privilege and Intentional Action to Combat Systemic Racism: When I started in this role in April of 2020, privilege, white supremacy, and systemic racism was a topic of discussion for some churches but it has now moved quickly to the forefront of congregational conversations at a pace that I’ve never seen before. Many congregations and judicatory bodies have also used this opportunity to take intentional action by making financial reparations or raising money on behalf of low-income neighbors. I hope congregations will continue to translate their enlightening conversations and deep learning into intentional action.
- The Pace of Change: Watching the church quickly pivot from in-person to online worship, has given me immense hope for the future. We can change when we need to. I pray that as we move into 2021 we will remember that change can be a gift. I hope we will resist the urge to return to “business as usual” and instead allow what we’ve learned in this time of distance to shape our new experience when we are permitted to be together once again.
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