A note from Rev. Eleanor B. McCormick: Ecumenical Pastor in our partner church the Protestant Church in Baden (Ekiba)
Dear Beloveds in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference,
After seven Sundays without services inside our church building in Karlsruhe-Grötzingen, Baden, Germany we gathered at 10 a.m. on May 10th for what we called an “Andacht” (Devotion or Prayer Service) and not a “Gottesdienst” (Church or Worship Service).
But this was not the church I remembered: microphones covered with plastic wrap, congregants wearing masks, song books shelved, disinfectant at the door, distances between friends, a thirty-minute limit on our time together, arrows and ropes and signs detailing a new reality.
And yet this was the church I remembered: familiar faces and smiles (even if they were only seen in the creases around their eyes), familiar challenges (why does the HDMI cord seem so angry with the projector?) and a familiar space that was somehow comforting. Congregational singing is not permitted because of the increased risk of infection – but this song, accompanied by a small ensemble (all standing more than 5 meters apart), brought comfort too.
Meine engen Grenzen, meine kurze Sicht bringe ich vor dich. Wandle sie in Weite: Herr erbarme dich.
Meine ganze Ohnmacht, was mich beugt und lähmt, bring ich vor dich. Wandle sie in Stärke: Herr, erbarme dich.
Mein verlornes Zutraun, meine Ängstlichkeit bringe ich vor dich. Wandle sie in Wärme: Herr, erbarme dich.
Meine tiefe Sehnsucht nach Geborgenheit bring ich vor dich. Wandle sie in Heimat: Herr, erbarme dich.
My narrow limits, my short-sightedness I bring before you. Turn it into openness: Lord have mercy.
I bring before you all my helplessness, which bends and paralyzes. Turn it into strength: Lord, have mercy.
I bring before thee my lost trust and my fear. Turn it into warmth: Lord, have mercy.
I bring before thee my deep desire for sanctuary. Turn it into home: Lord, have mercy.
Our congregation was one of just ten in the region to open for an Andacht on Sunday. It was, it is fair to say, an experiment. And on Wednesday, we will have a video conference to share with colleagues what we learned. For those who may be interested, I have translated part of the “Schutzkonzept” (protection scheme including Sunday checklist) that guided the reopening of our sanctuary. It is available for download as PDF here.
In all honesty, I expected there to be more joy in the room. But when our short service began and ended with notes of caution and rules of procedure, that joy was mostly elusive. Despite my best efforts, I found that our first Sunday “back” was not the great “Alleluia!” I had craved. I wanted to be focused on the beauty and blessing of being with each other but also found my mind wandering in worry: Were we putting folks in danger? Did the benefits of coming together outweigh the risks?
We gathered as an embodied community to hold and name grief together. It was a place to lift up the prayers that had been shared over social media and zoom calls but nonetheless felt heavy on our hearts. Over the last few weeks, which have turned into months, we have collectively and individually faced grief, disappointment and loss.
I grieve the loss of life.
I grieve the loss of gatherings – in churches, synagogues and mosques. This time has fundamentally changed what it looks like to celebrate Easter, Passover and Ramadan. I grieve the loss of gatherings – meant to celebrate baptisms, weddings, school graduations, confirmations and birthdays. This time has fundamentally changed what it looks like to celebrate milestones in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.
I also grieve the smaller things like handshakes and warm embraces. I have grown accustomed, as a pastor in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference and the Evangelische Landeskirche in Baden, to greet my congregants as they leave the church. But this Sunday, I watched them from behind as they exited in physically distanced lines through the door marked Ausgang. Over the last week I had bemoaned the deficiencies of zoom and skype, but I felt in this moment a longing to see faces unobstructed by masks.
As I walked home I was glad to see rainbows decorating the fence outside our church kindergarten, adorning windows and doors, appearing in chalk on sidewalks and driveways. I came home and took a deep breath – the first deep breath I had taken since early that morning. And I sat on our balcony with a cup of hot coffee in my favorite coffee mug that has a simple image and simple message “look for the rainbow.”
There have been days where I’ve refused to put this mug in the dishwasher, opting to hand wash it instead. Just so it’s ready when I need to hold onto something that is comforting when so much about the world right now is simply not comforting. Do you have something like this that you turn to each day? A candle, a photo, a blanket, a prayer?
And so this is my thought, after our first Sunday back in our sanctuary – that maybe we are being called to become more of a rainbow church? A church that blends many colors of worship? When we are in-person we are also on-line. When we are online we think of how that handwritten note might bring more color and more beauty to our celebration of God’s world – which is a good world and a world filled with possibility. When we’re walking or taking photos we think about how that walk, and those photos might become something to build a brighter and more beautiful worship service or engage a younger generation missing from our pews. And as we wait for the church that we do remember we can also share these symbols of hope.
In a campaign called #ZeichenDerHoffnung (Symbols of Hope) Mission 21 – Evangelisches Missionswerk Basel asked its partners to encourage each other through video messages of hope. And so I engaged our youth leaders in Grötzingen to send me photos that represent #ZeichenDerHoffnung. I received meaningful and inspiring responses from a group of youth rarely seen on a Sunday morning (unless required for confirmation). Some of their responses included rainbows. I have brought their photographs and artwork together in a short video that is available here: https://bit.ly/2zgSZGA. I invite you to take a moment to watch it and to remember that even as we hold and honor very real feelings of grief, we are encouraged to share signs, symbols and messages of hope with others.
We are traveling through a season that seems filled with Good Fridays,
but as Christians we know that Easter will always arrive.
It is as inevitable as a rainbow after a May rain.