Our Advent season will be trimmed slightly this year by the arrival of what we have been waiting for—Christmas. This year is unlike any other, as it always it, but this year, that is especially true. Our faith communities have been dancing through COVID restrictions for months now. What was unthinkable in March will now be true. For many of us, we will not gather to light candles on Christmas Eve, sing carols in harmony, and join with family and friends to mark the season together. And for those of us who do physically gather, worship is constrained and distanced.
As stewardship leaders, we have, by now, built a budget for 2021, and tallied the losses and gains of our faith communities’ fiscal lives over 2020. Because this financial part is just a portion of our calling, we now look into 2021 wondering how we might nurture cultures of generosity and identities of stewards among those we lead. This remains the other side of our portfolio of responsibilities.
Ironically, given how profound our losses have been in 2020, this is a good time for these aspirations. We all have lost so much and so many since COVID arrived in early 2020. But isn’t it true that we humans tend to be most open to reflection and growth when the rug has been pulled out from under us and we are, in grief, trying to find our footing again?
Perhaps one of the gifts we can give each other is to honor our losses and lament, openly and without sugar coating. Of course we want to be positive, to help people feel better. But maybe our public voice in these days is best given over to the pain and loss that surrounds us. There are few other places where this can or will happen. Think of the lives lost, whether to the virus, or to other causes, most not yet publicly acknowledged, and often lost during times of isolation and excruciating separation. How might we, as stewardship leaders in faith communities, be stewards of this grief, to help honor and mark these losses?
Might we include in our weekly prayers an intercession for those lost to COVID, known and unknown, in the past week? Might we offer periodic memorial services, even online, where all are welcomed, and grief is blessed and held sacred? Might we convene grief groups, even if online, for community members as well as for those in our faith communities? Might we drive by and deliver with food or flowers to those in our communities who have lost someone in the past week? Might we tend, with cards or brief notes, to anniversaries of loss, even those that precede COVID?
And how might our faith communities be supporters of those who have to wait longer to be vaccinated, and be stewards in the public chatter about fairness and patience and the social norms that will guide us as we transition into a post-vaccination world? How might we, as faith communities, work toward a healthier, more common-good focused conversation?
In so many ways, we can be buoyed by the same promise Gabriel brought to Mary. “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” (Lk 1:30) Given Mary’s cultural context and the nature of the work set before her, she could have easily declined for fear of lost public acceptability and the strength of her witness. However, she found the courage to take it on, and even sang with hope of the future that lay before her and her son (Lk 1:46ff). We confess that this baby we anticipate is the one who redeems, bringing life out of all the deaths that beset us in life, including the final death that tears the veil between this world and the next. We can take courage!