Elastic Church

Dean Phelps, Transitional Regional Minister

Dean Phelps, Transitional Regional Minister
Dean Phelps

I describe myself as an occasional songwriter. Woodworking provides an analogy. Musically, I don’t often design and produce new pieces of furniture. I’m more at home taking an existing piece and giving it new life.

This past weekend, were it not for COVID-19, I would have been in Northern Kentucky, singing and enjoying a retreat with the Kentucky Regional Men’s Chorus. Throughout the weekend, I missed all the sights and sounds of that retreat, the fellowship, the blending, the harmony. I look forward to rejoining this group when the pandemic is behind us.

It started me thinking about life in the church after COVID-19. Vaccines are becoming available, and more groups are eligible. We can see some light at the end of the tunnel. I have thought about life after COVID-19 and wondered: how elastic will the church be?

We might think of elastic as the material that holds our socks up, material that stretches. “Elastic,” though, describes a physical property of the material. A material’s elasticity is its ability to return to its previous shape. For example, after you stretch a rubber band, it will return to its previous shape. It’s elastic. The elastic material in my socks is trying to return to its previous shape, but my leg is in the way. That force holds my socks up.

Glass is a very elastic material. We may think of it as rigid, but think about the glass in the window of a car. Close the car door, and the glass will vibrate and change shape. It will, nevertheless, return to its original shape. The combination of elasticity and transparency make glass a good material for windows.

So what do rubber bands, socks, and windows have to do with the church? As I have thought about the post-COVID church, I have wondered: How elastic will it be?

We have learned a lot from ten months of healthy at home protocols and restricted gatherings. Congregations have creatively developed ways to share worship and fellowship. We have reconnected with people who were our neighbors but still at a distance. Our outreach has expanded beyond our local community. An elastic church, though, emerging into a post-COVID world, will try to return to its pre-COVID shape.

Elasticity is good for rubber bands, windows, and socks. For the church, maybe not so much. I pray that our pandemic experiences will continue to reshape our ministries, even as we return to gathering, singing, worshipping, and serving together.

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