There’s really no easy way to start a post about death, so I guess I’ll just let the cat out of the bag right away: I think that the church is dead.
When I say that, what I mean is that the church as we know it is dead.
We have known for a long time that the church is “dying”. We all read the reports from the Anglican Church of Canada about how there won’t really be an Anglican Church by 2040. Every Diocese is closing churches, downsizing staff, finding efficiencies. To be clear, I speak of the human institution of the church. God’s church, the body of Christ, thrives whether or not the way we have organized ourselves survives.
But Coronavirus has changed all that.
The pandemic has put an end to worship and community structures as we know it. The financial impacts have accelerated what was already coming: layoffs, churches closing, buildings not being used.
But no one seems to want to say it. Instead we are clinging to what was.
It is a natural human instinct. I have found myself this week having a strange sense of empathy for Donald Trump, with these tapes coming forward showing that in February he knew how bad Coronavirus was going to be.
To be clear, as a world leader, he needed to have reacted very differently than he did and acted on this information in order to mitigate the effects, his lack of action has literally killed hundreds of thousands of people.
But on a human level, I can understand not being able to foresee, and not wanting to imagine, how vastly this virus has, and still will, change our world.
What has happened in the last 7 months was simply unimaginable a year ago.
We are all dealing with the mental health effects of our world literally being turned upside down in a way none of us could have imagined.
I am strangely reminded of my favourite prayer, the doxology. “Glory to God, whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine…” It is my favourite prayer exactly because our individual and collective imaginations about what the kindom* of God will bring is limited. That even when things seem unimaginably difficult, God’s imagination and possibilities are so much vaster.
But I guess the world can also get worse in ways we cannot imagine.
The church as we know it has died. What next?
We must first acknowledge that death has happened, and then lament it.
The secular world does not do well at acknowledging that we will all die, nor at offering ways to grieve. One of the church’s gifts is our ability to acknowledge death as a part of life, and to offer rituals of lament.
Why, in a moment like this, can the church not acknowledge this death? Why are we not offering people the place to grieve and lament?
I joked at the beginning of the pandemic, which was during the season of Lent, that this time was “the Lent of our lives.” A time to lament, to sit with death. We sense that new life will come, but not how or what it will look like.
I didn’t know then how true it would be.
We need to acknowledge this death and lament it. Without that, we cannot see new life. We will not be ready for it when it comes. Mary and the other women witnessed the resurrection because they were performing the rituals of lament: bringing spices to the tomb to prepare the body for burial.
All of these things were on my mind this week as I prepared to say goodbye to the Cathedral community. As I sat down to write, I wrote about death, because I too am dealing with death and lament.
I am lamenting the virus and all its impacts. One of these impacts included the difficult decision made by Cathedral leadership to end my contract.
I am lamenting the fact that I have not seen many members of this congregation in months, and that I do not know when I will next be able to sing out at the top of my lungs into a building filled with people.
I am lamenting the fact that I will not get to say goodbye to so many people in person. And what about the hugs?
I lament, even as I look forward to beginning my schooling to become a teacher.
There is no good way to leave a community that I have loved, and that has loved me back.
Even so, I leave you with this encouragement: cry, grieve, yell, shout some psalms of lament at God. Then, listen to the young people, for there will new life appear. There will God’s spirit move, and God’s abundant love will be known. There God’s work in the world will be made clear, and only then can we imagine and build a new church, built for this time.
For “in these last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your children shall prophesy, and your young people shall see visions, and your elders shall dream dreams”. (Acts 2:17)
*Yes, I have purposeful written “kin-dom” instead of kingdom. This is language that seeks to move away from hierarchical and monarchical language of “king” and instead imagine the world that God will build as a world where we see each other and creation as kin, family.