Being Grateful in a time of Pandemic
On February 15th of this year, I stood before God, our Bishop, numerous clergy and many people from the congregations of Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM) and said my Ordination vows. I was grateful for the completions of my Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary and the Candidacy process of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I was grateful for a wonderful reception that followed the Ordination; for time with family and friends, for my mentors who guided me, for the support that I received from my family, friends and members of PLUM, and for the beautiful, thoughtful gifts that were given to me. I was grateful.
And I was ready - ready to serve as a pastor. I looked forward to leading worship in the congregations of PLUM, to sharing communion with all who gathered, to visiting home-bound members, and yes, even to attending all the meetings that are necessary for the work of the church to get done. And then, a pandemic happened. Somehow, I missed that class in Seminary! And now, these words come to mind:
It does not seem to be coincidental that, in the midst of the pandemic, our synod’s Stewardship Committee offered a book study. The book that was used was Diana Butler Bass’ “Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks.” Giving thanks in the midst of a pandemic—is it possible? Is it possible to “give thanks in all circumstances?”
“If we practice gratefulness, it becomes a natural and normal way of engaging the world. With gratitude, our hearts open toward one another. It can make us different and helps us prosper” (p. 62).
For gratefulness to become natural and “normal,” it takes practice. And what is “normal?” As every aspect of our lives have changed, some questions come to mind. What does it mean to be church? What does it mean to worship? How can we celebrate communion? And a very important question – What are you feeling? I think that I can say that this has been a time of an emotional roller coaster. Bass wrote: “Our emotional lives are like gardens” (p. 40). And like gardens, Bass points out, they need attentiveness, care, and tending. How are you tending your emotional life?
Your pastors, and I think many of you, have been wrestling with those questions for months now. And another question, one that we must think about is – What have we learned? How has our awareness of our church community, the Church in the world, our local communities and our nation increased? Bass wrote:
“Gifts bring forth gratitude, and we express our appreciation by passing gifts on to others. When we share gifts, we become benefactors toward the well-being of all. . . It is an invitation to receive gifts, live more simply, graciously, and freely, attuned to our own hearts, our neighbors, and the common good.” (p. xxv)
What gifts have we received? We have been gifted with individuals with skills to bring us together in worship on Zoom and Facebook. We have technology that allows us to attend worship, book studies, Bible Studies, council meetings, classes, family parties, graduations and fellowship hours from the comfort of our homes, our cars and our gardens. Our family members who live hundreds of miles away can be part of our worship services!
We have received the gift of Sabbath. In the business of our lives, we often denied ourselves this gift that God gave us. It took a pandemic to slow us down so that we could practice being still and resting.
We received the gift of sight. We were made aware that the work of the church is not tied to our buildings. We were made aware of the need that has always been in our communities and nation, but that we were too busy to see. We saw, maybe for the first time, how important an “essential” worker is – and we saw that it was the very people that we looked past each day. We saw just how many people in our communities are living paycheck to paycheck, and who don’t have enough to eat.
Our eyes have also been opened to injustices in our country. Gifts aren’t always welcomed, but they are gifts, nonetheless. It is our choice about what we will do with these gifts. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor. We cannot toss this gift of sight aside like an unwanted toy. What are we going to do with this gift?
What does it mean to be Church? What does it mean to worship? How do we show our love, and God’s love, to our neighbor? These are questions that all of us must continue to wrestle with. We can begin by practicing gratefulness. We can practice giving thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.
Blessings from your pastoral team,
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773