A View from the Pew: Giving Thanks for the Challenges, Too

Each year at this time, people fill their social media timelines with posts of what they are thankful for.

The litany of blessings is predictable, and I often find myself nodding in agreement: health, family, friends, church, food, clothing, shelter, etc. As my own church continues to navigate challenges since the onset of the COVID pandemic, I am working to embrace a more comprehensive gratitude list, one that includes the problems we are facing.

After all, is it genuine gratitude if the only circumstances we acknowledge are good?

Here is a short list of challenges in church life I’m thankful for and how I am being enriched by thinking about these situations in a fresh way:

I’m thankful for having to check up on people. When in-person worship stopped and we shifted to various forms of online and socially distanced services, attendance was no longer a straightforward decision. People with underlying health conditions had to be more careful, and the only way to know if someone was doing OK or was simply moving on from your church was to reach out. Those conversations were some of the most meaningful church members have had in recent memory, and I am grateful that we have to think about each other in more intentionally pastoral caring ways.

I’m thankful for facilities and maximizing their use. In church life today, a building with all of its maintenance and aesthetic costs and concerns can feel like a burden. But when the pandemic separated us, the ability to meet at a building became extremely important. We were blessed to be able to do a lot of painting, redecorating, and enhancements while the buildings were empty. Now that we’re fully back in-person, I’m grateful I have a space for Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and worship.

I’m thankful for renewed outreach. Most churches decreased in size during the pandemic, and unless churches are intentional about inviting and welcoming guests, they will not regain their prior membership numbers, much less grow numerically. This challenge has required renewed creativity and authentic welcoming because we no longer take for granted that new people will just walk in the door.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to re-think traditions. With an interruption like the pandemic, traditions went from being automatic to an intentional decision. Some activities needed to end so that others could take their place. Some activities needed to continue but with a renewed sense of purpose and function in the life of the church. It’s been a healthy process of winnowing and augmenting events on the church calendar, and I’m grateful.

As you sit down with your family, friends, and church community this week, don’t just thank God for the obviously positive circumstances in your life. Take a moment to think about what has been difficult and see if God can help you reframe it as a blessing.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

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