“A good answer must be reinvented many times, from scratch.” So says a tree in Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory. With an abundance of lines like that, it’s little wonder The Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2019.
I write this blog post after most of the gatherings we usually take for granted have been cancelled, postponed, or adapted with imaginations quickened by the social distancing measures imposed to limit the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Congregations, like most other organizations and groups, are responding at the speed of life, which seems at once faster and slower than it once did. Former answers to where, how, and with whom Christians meet are being challenged. Last Sunday’s good answer may expire before the next, while a good answer offered up 52,000 Sundays ago (1,000 years) may be just what we need.
I am watching as the way forward gestured by the “Golden Rule” is being reinvented in our day. Congregations are seeking new – and often untested – ways of reinventing Jesus’ old agreement with a testy lawyer: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Samaritan was an old but reinvented reminder that God is in the business of “making all things new,” even answers.
BSK believes that we are living, loving, and trying to worship in a moment that future generations will study and learn from. Our good answers reinvented in this moment will one day nourish and inform those seeking to answer in their own day how to flourish as followers of Jesus amidst impossibly complex circumstances. We must pay attention to what we are doing.
BSK also believes that many of the same reinvented answers emerging in this moment can nourish and inform those who are right now planning worship, leading Bible studies, conducting funerals, and massaging budgets. We must share what we are learning.
In light of this moment and our duty as a seminary to research how congregations find ways to flourish in especially difficult circumstances, BSK’s Flourish Center is requesting your help in documenting and archiving congregational responses to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. We will be digitally archiving your responses as “Congregations Respond to COVID-19.”
We will also be making resources available so that congregations can draw on one another’s collective wisdom and insight.
Our answers remain the same even as they must – and are – being reinvented. BSK is committed to this resourcing research because the changes wrought by COVID-19 on congregations will unfold for years to come as we all strive to flourish together.
This is the advice you get when you listen to trees.
Dr. John Inscore Essick is Associate Professor of Church History at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (BSK), and co-pastor of Port Royal Baptist Church in Henry County, Kentucky.