By Rev. Eugenia A. Gamble
I never thought it would be like this. When I was unexpectedly thrust into retirement after thirty-five years of pastoral ministry due to complications from what should have been a routine surgery, I was ill prepared in every possible way. The church has always formed the rhythms of my life. From blasting through the swinging doors in my childhood church to make a picture of Jesus and the lambs with fluffy cotton balls and pipe cleaners, to the weekly pegs of bible studies, worship, preaching prep, meetings and small groups that have defined my adult life, the community of believers gathered together has been the canvas on which my life unfolded.
When I was well enough to travel after my surgery, my husband and I moved from our home in California back to my home state of Alabama. Once the boxes were unpacked we began to look for a home church, a community where we would belong, serve and walk the life of faith with others. Then a few months later came pandemic with all its strange ruthless fears and isolation. With my fragile health, being out and about was no longer an option.
Three years later that is still the case. Our lives have become smaller than I imagined. Only very rarely are we able to attend church and feel the old floorboards tremble when the organist pull out the stops or feel the electric Spirit as the body of worshippers rises as one and approaches the table of grace. Calendars and days of the week fade into each other and there is not the same structure to our lives. Sunday clothes have given way to sweats and a clean tee shirt.
And yet. Even in this time of disorientation, miracles of the undaunted body of Christ began to emerge. I became a commissioner to our synod and found that in zoom committee meetings I once again became a part of the church that has shaped my life. New friendships were formed. People I knew only by name began to take shape in my life in full form. I learned new ways and perspectives and found that the Presence of God can flow through a computer screen even for this aging Luddite pastor.
Because of technologies, and the determination of the church to leave no one behind, I found new ways to serve. I preach twice a month from my home in Alabama to an astonishing New Church Development in California. I write daily devotions that are shared all over the world and that little congregation has regular worshippers in Kenya and Burundi where my weekly bible studies have become the curriculum for churches and believers whose lives are so vastly different from my own. It is a whole new world.
Frankly, it was easier, for me, when we were all on zoom together. Now that, mercifully, most folk have been able to emerge and enter into their shared life together, my presbytery no longer offers a hybrid option for meetings, but our Synod does, as do many of our congregations. For those whose lives have found their new normal, pastors and congregational leaders, it is easy to become swamped with the daily demands of ministry and mission and to think that the time for technological community is, in some ways, past. Let me assure you that there are many who continue to long to engage even when their circumstances make in person interactions impossible. When you go through the motions of setting up zooms, sending links, starting YouTube channels or Facebook Live, you are preparing the way for the body of Christ to embrace many of us who both need and appreciate that embrace. Thank you! It means more than you may imagine.