By Karen Johnson Kretschmann
During this time of pandemic in our communities, faith leaders are working diligently to create new experiences of worship, faith formation, and fellowship. We are tapping into our technology skills, creativity, and focus in ways we never imagined. Our congregations are not shut down but, in many cases, ramped up.
An amazing thing is happening in many faith communities. Our members are finding deep relationships and generosity in unexpected places and formats. Congregations offering online services are connecting with members they have not heard from in years or are gathering groups together who never imagined collaborating before. Though members are experiencing the devastating impact of COVID-19, many are seeking an opportunity to lend a hand and serve in ways they had not expected.
The Message provides a telling of 2 Corinthians 8 and the situation of the Macedonians that echoes similar experiences.
8 1-4 Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.
Paul knew the power of story. He knew that we all experience times of trial, whether pandemic-sized or personal, and it is in these times that “surprising and generous” things can happen. I know many of us are sensitive to the financial and personal difficulties people are experiencing during the coronavirus shut down. However, I hear in Paul’s words and am seeing in our people right now, that it is in these times of the unexpected, when we experience tension and stress, “the pressure trigger[s] something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts.”
This is not a time to shy away from asking for support. Our congregations need to know the offering is more important than ever to making ministry in new and extraordinary ways and reaching out and helping those in need. Now is the time to get the offering right! Don’t remove the offering from online worship or say, “we are not taking the offering”. It is time to revitalize the offering in unexpected and enthusiastic ways—to share incredible stories about celebrating new experiences, connecting deeply in virtual spaces, providing still more needed food and personal items to our neighbors, and proclaiming God’s abundant love and generosity lived out through us. Frame the stories not as facts, but as encounters with Jesus that move us to action. Let them reveal new ways to be generous with time, talent, treasure and trust. This is the time to infuse all parts of our worship, fellowship and faith formation with the stories of our resilience and transformation.
During these unprecedented times, reconnect with the offering in unexpected ways. Keep it sacred. Make it relational. Allow it to build deeper encounters with each other, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. Most of all celebrate and give thanks, for the offering is an act of God working in, with, and through us.
Photo by Rahul Pandit