This article may also be found in the 2020 Annual Report of the Congregation.

Dear Bethesda,

We’ve had a few years together, but not like this one! One year ago we were putting together plans for Lent and Easter, excited for a new Palm Sunday idea: one joint worship service followed by a congregational potluck and easter egg hunt for the kids. Little did we know the days of multiple worship services and church coffee would be over for at least a year and counting.

One year ago summer plans for youth trips were set. Little did we know the trusty church vans would remain garaged as we gathered in the church park weekly for ice cream and frisbee. Who could have imagined tech-savvy youth would grow bored of the zoom technology required for us to keep in touch from home?

My dear mother-in-law’s Christmas letter is usually good for a few laughs. She’s laughing with us, not at us (most of the time). In summarizing how COVID has impacted her family, she described my year with words that were not intended to be as profound as I found them. “Tom is a pastor who can’t really pastor.” Now there is a phrase that can be taken in more than one way!

I think (I hope) she meant that COVID has created challenges to my ability as a pastor, and our ability as a congregation, to be who God has called us to be. There are the obvious barriers mentioned above: no casual conversations over church coffee or in homes, no shows of affection, no long and eventful van rides with young people. There has also been the sad difficulty to see people in the hospital or other facilities. And you can’t forget the feeling you had when the state considered pot shops and strip clubs to be essential services at safe capacity, but the church was initially “allowed” to have ten people
together at any one time. Lord, have mercy.

“Things They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary” has been a phrase and a Facebook group for years. Most job fields have a gap between preparation and reality and this is true for pastors and congregations as well. We have all learned and hopefully grown this year. I’m very appreciative of our church planning council, staff and many other people who have made the best of the situation and renewed their commitment to God’s mission and ministry at Bethesda. God will see us through. This too shall pass. Even as this passes, let us stay mindful of the lessons along the way. By the grace of God, may we “fall upward” (in the words of our Book Club’s recent read of Richard Rohr).

I’m so thankful our congregation had already dedicated resources over the years keeping up to date with technology and an online presence. Our transition to online ministry was rather smooth, compared with many congregations. The people of Bethesda have been gracious to support needs for new equipment and remain steadfast in their work in our food, clothing, giving tree, and other basic needs ministries. Dozens of members have taken
the time to record music, scripture readings, or assist in worship in other ways. Bless you for this!

We might well be facing a second Easter without crowds and a yummy youth breakfast, but “people of God, look East!” Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Shalom, Pr. Tom