Returning Home: Celebratory Grief & Imagining the Future

For many of us, it’s been over a year since we’ve been in our church buildings for any purpose. No indoor gatherings have moved meetings, coffee hours, formation opportunities, and even worship -have all occurred digitally. The pandemic has kept us apart from one another physically in so many ways, especially those of us who live in colder climes who don’t have the space or weather to meet outdoors for worship. As we look to the warmth of spring, more of us armed with our vaccinations and our local map turning from red to orange (will we every see yellow or green?) will be coming out of our hibernation to rise and shine. Easter will take on new meaning; a renewed life in meeting in-person that will be a different/new normal.

Despite not stepping into my church’s building in almost 14 months, I don’t feel like I ever left. I’ve still been connected (perhaps even more) by participating in worship, book studies, coffee hours, trivia nights, pub theology, and Sacred Ground work over Zoom. I’ve come to know parishioners more deeply over Zoom than I ever had through our coming and going on Sundays. But there will be joy in “returning” to church.

Despite the hopes of many, I doubt things will ever be the same, including how we worship together in our sanctuaries (at least for the near future). Many of us will see how our sanctuary spaces have turned into recording studios, with new technology to continue broadcasting for those who cannot be present. We will be masked and spread out in our pews; sharing the Peace will be a wave instead of a handshake or hug. And I wonder what the common cup will become; will we ever be able to share Eucharist as before?

Many of us have been grieving in a variety of ways in isolation: losing family and friends to the coronavirus, watching what now seems a daily occurrence of mass shootings in America (not to mention the daily killings of individual BIPOC in our cities), the continuing gap between rich and poor, and the list goes on. Some of us lament silently in our hearts while some of us take to the streets in protest.

When we regather as communities of faith in our communities, how can we name and address the grief we are experiencing?

How can we move forward, building on what has gone well and embrace a new future full of possibilities?

A group of theologically-trained Episcopalians with significant experience in creating materials for and facilitating adult theological reflection and Christian education modules for group process have offered a resource to the Church to assist in bringing this grief to the light: Entering the Same Door, Differently. They have created a number of sessions for small groups that will help “Empowering the Present and Imagining the Future through Post-Pandemic Exploration and Personal Stories” as faith communities begin to gather together in-person again. The sessions are. . .

. . . designed to change consciousness and build positive self-awareness, individually and collectively. We seek to focus less on what went wrong, and more on what has gone well, what new and promising adaptations we have already developed, and what we dream for the future that lies ahead. We will work together to use the affirmative power of our own stories to frame our responses away from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, to PTG, post-traumatic growth. Through conscious choice, we can move from suffering to resilience, from coping to overcoming, from hurting to growing.

The authors (Rick Brewer, Angela Hock-Brewer, Michael Cunningham, Johnna Camp, Christina Brennan Lee, and Mary Thomas Watts) offer these materials at no charge and hope they will be adapted and appropriated for in-person/virtual/hybrid participation in faith communities, as well as civic, non-profit, and other organizations that wish to use them. They strongly recommend that experienced small-group facilitators lead and navigate these conversations.

The following is offered in this “packet” of resources:

  • “Entering a Post-Pandemic World: A Theological Framework to Guide Decisions” by Richard Brewer
  • Key Theological Positions for Living in a Post-pandemic World
  • “Just Imagine: What Was, What Might Be” by Angela Hock and Michael Cunningham (a two session program)
  • “An Appreciative Entry into the Post-Pandemic ‘New Normal’” by Johnna Camp (a 6-hour session suitable for a morning and afternoon with a lunch break)
  • “From Shared Trauma to Imagining the Future” by Mary Thomas Watts (three one-hour sessions)
  • An Appendix of resources to include: suggested group norms, Appreciative Inquiry process introduction, quotations for handouts and reflections, a link to Tim Schenck’s article “Hybrid Church”

Images: Photos by James LeeTavi White, and DNK.PHOTO on Unsplash.

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