Will they come back?

We have lost a lot of people as this little church in this little town. Some left before the pandemic in disputes with the rector, in disappointment that Grace couldn’t regain its glory years, in addictions, in family disputes, and in broken marriages. People quit coming until the view of the church on Sunday mornings was painful to see. Then the pandemic hit. There was no church to attend anywhere. Now we are reopening with social distancing, and people ask, “Will the ones who fell away come back?”
My heart was broken with every absence. The stress for me has been very difficult. In my view of heaven and reconciliation, there is a banquet waiting where all the broken relationships come back together for a meal and all is well. But that is heaven, and we remain bound to the gravity of this earth to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling” as Paul says.
To inquire whether our old friends at church will come back is a bit of a red herring question. It is not relevant to the church, to our mission or our faith. It would be wonderful to see old friends again, no doubt. Some people may return. Such a question expresses a natural desire to return to an earlier time of normal – a comforting desire during a discomforting time. To those who constantly compare today’s church to the “good ol’ days under Father so and so” I suggest another image.
Together, we have climbed a steep hill in the pre-dawn hours. We are standing on top of the hill looking at the faint traces of dawn to the east. We are the faithful remnant. We are the pioneers and explorers. We are the vanguard God has sent on a mission to recolonize this little church in this little town. We are like Moses and the Israelites standing on the east side of the Jordan looking across. We will wade to the other side and do the work God has given us to do.
To those who fret about the return of the lost, I suggest two other questions are worth considering. “How have we been faithful to God during these four-hundred days of exile?” And, “How and what will we share of our faith with those new people God sends to us?”
Have we prayed and meditated on scripture? Have we contacted friends and neighbors to see how they are doing? Have we shared our worldly wealth with the poor? Have we grieved with those who lost loved ones? These actions flow from a life of faith focused on the here and now.
And what of the future? Are there deep needs in the community around us where we are called to help? Our faith kept alive during these months of isolation is to be a beacon drawing other to the Christ that is in us. Will new people find in us a lively faith that reaches across social boundaries to a hopeful future? Will we rejoice in the new dawn ahead of us?

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