Here in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the United States, St. John’s Baptist has been living in the realm of virtual ministry for close to a year now. Our last Sunday physically together was March 8, 2020. Like all of you, our usual routines and ways of doing ministry have been disrupted, and we have had to adapt to the reality of the pandemic. I have come to realize this time has opened me up to God’s creative Spirit through the disruption of normality. What follows is a story of the creative Spirit at work in me blended with some more practical information about how that creativity has manifested itself in my ministry.
As Advent and Christmas Eve approached, I felt the grief from our people and within myself that we would not get to celebrate the birth of Christ in the way we all wanted to –physically together. For me, Christmas Eve night is truly a holy one as love is always so tangible in our worship together. This particular service engages so many of the senses in a way that a typical worship service does not. There are things to see and hear, things to touch, and things to taste.
While we missed celebrating Easter together, it had come so early in our pandemic journey that we were still optimistic that we would be back together again by the summer, so the grief over a different way of celebrating Easter was not as heavy as the grief I sensed surrounding Christmas. The Spirit moved in that sense of loss to spark creativity in me. I searched for a way that we could offer some sense of normalcy and connectedness. I played with the idea of a progressive, outdoor Christmas Eve service that would take small groups through stations to experience and participate in the parts of worship that hold so much meaning for so many: music, story, Communion, and candles. Rising case numbers in our area and projections of troubling metrics in December led me to put that idea back on the shelf fairly quickly. I was back to brainstorming.
Early in the pandemic, I saw many children’s ministers talking about the kits they put together for their children and families as a way to offer a tangible connection to their church family and to offer a way to continue to engage in spiritual growth. I put together kits of my own for our children and families for the summer and fall of 2020. As we got closer and closer to Advent, there was a lot of talk about what items to include in Advent kits for children, but I kept sensing that I needed to do more than something only for children. Then the Spirit sent an idea bubbling up within me – we could create Christmas Eve kits to offer a tiny bit of normalcy to what we all knew would be a far from normal service.
The idea was well-received. Each kit contained candles, supplies for Communion, printed orders of worship, and children’s activities. People signed up for kits for their households and indicated how many of each item they needed. Then, they picked the kits up in a drive-through at the church building which allowed the ministry staff a chance to see our people and wish them a “Merry Christmas” in person. We had 65 households take a kit, allowing us to minister to at least 230 people. On Christmas Eve, my social media feeds were full of pictures of our people using the kits to celebrate at home. I received grateful texts and emails about how the kits made people feel more connected to their church family and about how the kits made a very abnormal Christmas Eve feel a little more normal. Seeing these kits in use and receiving messages of love and thanks helped the night feel more like normal for me, too. It reminded me that even though we might have been physically separated that night we were still connected through the love of God.
I reflected on the success of our Christmas Eve kits and realized that while I had seen a lot of talk about creating kits for children and youth, I had not really seen much, if any, talk of at-home spiritual growth kits for adults. While it is true, at least in our context, that adults have adapted much more readily to meeting and learning together over Zoom (largely because they do not have to spend 4-6 hours a day on Zoom for school like our children and youth do), I could not help but feel that perhaps we were missing an opportunity for meaningful spiritual growth by not offering adults tangible materials beyond their Sunday School quarterly.
Once again, troublingly high metrics opened me to the Spirit’s creativity. Instead of being able to offer our annual Ash Wednesday Sacred Space where we create hands-on stations that invite reflection and nurture spiritual growth, I pivoted to turning those stations into an at-home experience that could foster spiritual growth for the duration of Lent. Each kit includes a guidebook to lead people through six different spiritual practices based on the worship series we are planning that is centered on Jesus’s spiritual life. The kit also contains most of the materials necessary for each practice (I have not included things commonly found at home like pens, Bibles, or colored pencils). People are currently in the process of signing up for kits, which will be distributed at another drive-through event.
In the coming weeks, I am looking forward to hearing how these kits have been helpful to our people along their Lenten journey. I am also wondering how creative offerings like these kits might continue through the rest of the pandemic and beyond. I am thankful for the ways this pandemic has opened me to the Spirit’s creativity. I have seen God’s creative Spirit at work as I see and hear about the things that friends and colleagues in ministry are doing. I have faith that the Spirit’s creative work will continue in us, through us, and around us even as we move into life after the pandemic. May each of us be open to the creative work of the Spirit – pandemic or not.
For Reflection and Discussion
- What creativity has the Spirit prompted in you and your ministry as we have faced changes because of the pandemic?
- What creative changes might stay with you beyond the pandemic?
- How can we teach ourselves to be more open to the Spirit’s creativity?