Taking a Time Out
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease. (Genesis 8:22)
Some parents give their children a “time-out” to calm down, to gain control, to reflect on what they have done, or simply to remove them from a problem situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a similar “time-out,” offering us ample time to think about our lives, our faith, our relationships, and our world.
In our Annual Conference, we have taken this “time-out” very seriously. We formed a COVID-19 Task Force and have offered guidance and suggestions for safe-at-home and safe gatherings at our churches, recommending caution and patience in making decisions, and we have determined that this year’s Annual Conference should be virtual, using an Internet platform to conduct our Conference business.
In my reflections, I think often of the time we are in. What might put this time in perspective? In the grand scheme of things, what we are going through now will one day fade in memory, and we will look back on the spring on 2020 with various reflections and opinions. What this is to us now and what it will be to us then might be very different things.
Christians tend to be people who think about eternal life. But what do we mean by eternal? Since the Enlightenment, the word “eternal” has essentially been tied to time, to a beginning and an end. “Eternal life” means living forever into the future, drawing upon a concept of linear time. But historically and theologically, eternity has more to do with “scope” rather than “length of time.” Our omniscient and omnipresent God knows all things now, in the past, and for all time to come. For God, time is comprehended in an instant. God is not bound by our human measures of time and space, but in fact knows all possible outcomes of all possible moments in all possible places. Modern physics has finally caught up with progressive theology – there may be an infinite number of realities in an infinite number of spheres occupying an infinite amount of space and time. In other words, God’s reality.
In the grand scheme of things, what we go through in the moment is essentially irrelevant. We struggle with this. Our challenges, our pain, our sacrifices, our discomforts seem very important and very real. We don’t like our inconveniences diminished and reduced – they cause us great unhappiness. Yet, history may not see what we are going though today as very significant. The year 2020 may be viewed in years to come as an aberration and an uneventful blip on the screen of human history.
So, the significance of this time is actually up to us. What will the spring of 2020 truly mean to the people called United Methodist in Wisconsin mean as we live into our future? I would offer just a few observations:
- Life is precious – we should never take life for granted. We have lost loved ones. Many lives that we have not known well have been lost. In a time of pandemic, the fragility of life is highlighted and made widely known. We should never take life for granted.
- Relationships are extremely important – until we cannot meet face-to-face on a regular basis, we don’t truly value how important being together really is.
- Church is much more than Sunday morning – our ministry is of relationships, not just programs and services. The more we are connected, the stronger we are.
- Pastors are important, but the ministry belongs to the people – our strongest witness and outreach depends on all of us together, and not just our pastors.
- What will it take for us to carry our learnings from this time forward into our future? – we need to think “both/and” rather than “either/or” about online worship, community outreach, membership nurture, and spiritual formation as we live into the future.
This has been a rich and evocative time as well as a challenging time in the life of our church. We should emerge from the corona pandemic and the racial upheaval time stronger than we have ever been before, and we will so long as we see these demanding times as a gift from God rather than a punishment. God is good, all the time, and everything that we are learning in this unique 2020 springtime should only make us stronger and better. By God’s grace we pray. Amen.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).