Updated: Aug 22
I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.
A few weeks ago, I was on a Zoom conference call with faith formation leaders in the Heartland Conference, trying to figure out one more game I could play virtually with my senior high youth, and what in the world I was going to do about this summer's Vacation Bible School due to the global pandemic. (File under “Things You Don’t Learn in Seminary.”) At the end of our time together, David Long-Higgins, our Transitional Conference Minister, posed the question, “What do we want the Promised Land to look like once this wilderness season is over?”
That question deeply resonated in my soul. In the last three months, many of us have become semi-experts at virtually connecting with our congregants while they are obeying stay-in-place orders at home. Since I started in faith formation ten years ago, I have attended many workshops and listened to various speakers talk about what faith formation at home can look like. Then suddenly, in the matter of a week or two, this is the only way faith formation is able to continue in our congregations – at home. Worship continues via YouTube or Facebook Live, youth groups meet on Zoom, and children receive materials for lessons over e-mail or dropped off at the door to complete at their convenience.
During this wilderness season, a lot has changed. We have much to lament as we grieve events that cannot happen (many once-in-a-lifetime!), people we cannot see, and life as we once knew it. I am not sure if life will ever go back to the way we once knew it. And certainly we won't take things like hugs, in-person worship, and frequent trips to the grocery store for granted. This pandemic will shape our lives for many years to come. Perhaps this is the next push in the current church reformation. Perhaps much of church will continue to happen away from the building.
Therefore, I've been thinking a lot about David Long-Higgin's question — What do we want the Promised Land to look like once this wilderness season is over? I've been discerning how my personal and work life will be different. I'll be focusing my attention in different ways and putting the brakes on burnout much sooner than I ever had before. I’ve been thinking about how we can make changes in our church schedules and adapt to accomplishing more work online. And the faith formation I’ve been helping to resource at home? I’m definitely going to keep focusing on that.
The Israelites followed God through the wilderness for forty years. I’m sure there were days when they looked at one another and asked, “When is this going to end?” As we faith formation leaders move through the COVID wilderness and eventually into the Promised Land, I hope that we continue to champion the ways we have learned how to foster faith formation at home. Perhaps it will be more important than ever as we experience this new reformation together, and usher in a new age of being the Church.
Kim Nagy is the Director of Faith Formation at Kent United Church of Christ in Kent, Ohio. She serves as the Ohio representative for the Great Lakes Association of United Church Educators and also serves on the Heartland Conference Faith Formation Working Group.