“What should we focus on during our first Sunday back in the building?” someone recently asked me. “Celebration,” I said, without thinking. “Celebrate who you have become through this pandemic. A crisis of this proportion has expanded your capacity. Own it. Celebrate what you accomplished together. Even if, and especially if, you have sustained losses. Don’t let their passing be without meaning.”
The scriptures lay out a history of celebration in the midst of national trauma. The Passover celebration took place in the wake of a dozen plagues. Both Moses and Miriam led the Israelites in song and dance after crossing the Red Sea. Even the song was sung at contemporary Passover Seders, Dayenu (translated “it would have been enough”), is a litany of God’s faithfulness in light of an unspeakable tragedy.
In this article, I am going to share the three steps to celebrate your first Sunday back even as COVID-19 continues to spread. Just as importantly, I’m going to share a bonus step with you about how to not waste a good crisis.
Celebrate Your First Sunday Back
On your first Sunday back, a celebration is highly appropriate. But when you celebrate, make sure that you don’t focus on God’s faithfulness to the exclusion of your own. God’s faithfulness means nothing if you don’t join in the dance with God. Likewise, your readiness means nothing if you have missed God’s cues. Celebrate your wins as a mutual partnership with the Divine.
Remember the Journey
As you prepare to celebrate, first, highlight the events and turning points that led you to this moment. For instance, when and how did you make the decision to go online? When and how did you throw caution to the wind (figuratively speaking, of course) so that you could quickly organize for worship outside the building? When and how did you decide the way you would make online giving available? Online pastoral care? Online missions? How did you reach out to your community? What ministries have continued unabated? Who has been involved in these decisions and ministries?
Gather these memories as stones on a journey, markers of the terrain you have traveled. But don’t stop there. Reflect, too, on the spiritual lessons the pandemic has taught you. Think about the funerals, memorial services, and weddings you may have performed. What did you learn about the value of community? The value of presence? Gather these memories to share as well.
Finally, consider those who have served your congregation and community with kindness, skill, and passion. Be sure to lift them up in prayer, celebrating their integrity and sacrifice.
Choose Your Words with Intention for Your First Sunday Back
Second, as you select which memories to share, be intentional about word choice. You are crafting a narrative that will live on in the minds and hearts of the people. How you frame your communal story sets the stage for what comes next. Instead of getting caught in the post-pandemic blues, set the stage for your next vision and the next stage of growth.
Growth and Gaps
Not everything you recall will be cause for celebration. Doubtless, you goofed up on some things. You mishandled a challenging situation or relationship. Probably you let some things slip through the cracks. So, third, find ways to acknowledge the gaps as well as the growth. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Both the gaps and the growth can lead to your deepened skill as a leader, and your deepened faith as a congregation.