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Bishop Katherine Finegan, Journal columnist

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and put a new and righteous spirit within me.

11 Do not drive me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit away from me.

12 Give me back the joy of your salvation,

and foster in me a spirit of good will.

~ Psalm 51. 10-12

Dear neighbors and friends, for two and a half years my husband and I managed to avoid contracting COVID-19. We wore masks, stayed away from gatherings, quarantined after suspected exposure, and basically did what we were supposed to do to avoid contracting the virus.

And we succeeded, until this month. It started with a tickle in my throat, then came the fever and chills, then the difficult decision to nap on the couch or sit in the chair or just go to bed.

As of this writing, we’ve come out of our COVID cave and are now back among the living, of sorts. We always move slowly. Processing the thought or coming up with complete sentences remains a challenge. As many people who have had COVID will tell you, a kind of fog sets in, like brain congestion.

But enough of that. I am writing to share with you some questions about COVID and the Church. It’s no secret that people are tired, but until I contracted COVID, I hadn’t really considered the physical toll of COVID and its impact on ministry.

I believe we have all witnessed the impact of COVID on our minds, our emotions, our sense of community, and some heightened anxiety about what it all means. But physically, no wonder volunteering is at an all-time low!

When even brushing your teeth or cooking supper depletes all energy reserves, I can understand why there isn’t much strength left to lead Vacation Bible School, take a lap for the Altar Guild, or sing. in the choir. Such extra activity, at least for a while, is truly beyond our physical abilities.

And yet, that too will pass. The energy will return. Creativity, strength and willingness to contribute will slowly but surely gain momentum in my body and mind. And not just for me, but for our efforts together as congregations and communities of faith.

It seems to me that we are collectively in this healing space, waiting for restoration and renewal. Whether or not you’ve had to deal with the physical impact of COVID, I think we’re all painfully aware of a certain disease.

People continue to be polarized on social and political issues. Some are noticing that worship attendance and in-person giving has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and we wonder what this means for the future of our church.

We talk about wanting to move forward and yet wanting to get back to where we were, which if we’re honest was still a place of decline and anxiety.

So where are we? Truly, I believe we are still where we have always been, invited to participate in what God is doing in the world. I remind you and myself of what we already know intellectually, but are perhaps challenged to own emotionally and spiritually, that our Church, and your Church, belongs to God.

And the body of Christ of which you are a part lives and breathes because God wants it to be so. We look to God to put in us a new and righteous spirit. We rely on the Holy Spirit to show us the way, to energize our efforts and focus our mission to further the work of Christ.

In these days of healing and discernment, as we await renewal and even joy, I know momentum is building.

Congregations are considering their next steps, new ministry plans are being developed, people are coming out of isolation, yearning for community and meaningful spiritual connection.

As the Body of Christ in the world, we have something precious to offer. Whether your congregation provides an opportunity for deeper engagement or simply gives permission to be still and receive a word of hope and healing, the Church, your church, is meant to be a blessing.

May God bless you with the joy of salvation and support you with a spirit of goodwill.

Your neighbor,

Editor’s Note: Reverend Katherine Finegan is Bishop of the Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Barry F. Howard