“Normal” is Not a North Star

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

by:  Elizabeth Lynn and Mark Ramsey  I  May 7, 2020


…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “(People) of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?…                                                       – Acts1:8-11a

There is a great deal of talk right now about returning to a place called “normal.”  If your church board has not yet been asked, “When can things get back to normal?” . . . well, trust that it will face that question soon.

Views of normal will be strongly influenced by the impact of this crisis on different communities and congregations.  For some of us, the crisis is a rough patch.  For many others, however—especially vulnerable populations in fragile communities—this is a catastrophe.  Examples of devastation are increasing in urgency and should give every congregation pause as they discuss a return to “normal.”

It is also safe to assume that every congregation—and board—will contain a variety of views on the meaning of “normal.”   Some may be seeking the known normal. Others may be reaching for a new normal.  Still others may be gently suggesting that there is no normal ahead and, as one of our conversation partners on “Leading with Imagination in Uncertain Times” put it, “there is no road back.”

Returning to normal.
Seeking a new normal.
There is no normal anymore.

Perhaps, rather than talking about a return to normal, leaders would be wise to begin this next season by talking about purpose. Whom do we serve, and why? There is no way a congregation can have lived through the last few months without having its sense of purpose shaken, stirred, even remixed.

Unlike the concept of normal, purpose is a north star. It can focus us on what is essential, what needs to be held constant as we feel our way forward. Questions of purpose can reorient us to our neighbors and to other faith communities in our area that have suffered greatly.  Questions of purpose can open us up to collaborating with other ministry partners, clarify our needs and the needs of others, and encourage innovation in how those needs can best be met.

In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples are caught looking up at the sky where Jesus was.  Jesus’ followers, trying to adjust to this “new normal,” are gently rebuked by angelic messengers. “Why do you stand here looking up at the sky?”  In other words, that was then, this is now.  And now means, what are you doing now, and for what purpose?

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