I’m not a surfer but I did grow up by the sea and I have always enjoyed riding a wave by body boarding. I understand that the best surfers are those who know which are the best waves to ride. They patiently watch the horizon to learn the language of the sea before choosing the largest and best waves. Missional listening and leadership is partially about watching the societal and cultural waves on the horizon and then, with the help of the Spirit, getting ready to ride those waves in the best way possible.
No one saw the wave of COVID coming, and if they had, they probably wouldn’t have realised what a huge impact it was going to have. It was like a wave that understandably caught even the best surfer unawares! However, as we see the vaccines roll out and the potential of life returning to some kind of normality, it is worth looking out to the horizon and asking what cultural waves might be heading our way and whether it is possible to missionally serve our communities by riding some of these waves.
I can’t say with great certainty what these waves might be, but I do want to suggest three possible waves worth considering:
The first wave I think worth highlighting is the potential for a wave of mental health issues as people come out of lockdown and restrictions. Many of us are aware of how lockdown has challenged our own mental health and wellbeing. Some of us have been quite surprised by how we have reacted to the challenges that we have faced. Personally, I have yearned to get out of the routine space of home and find a new scene. During the winter months this, of course, has been much harder to do. I have found myself become restless, frustrated and very tetchy and my sleep at times has been inconsistent. If we are aware that our own mental health has been challenged during these times, it can’t be too difficult to imagine the amount of mental strain there has been for others.
As we slowly come out of lockdown, I find myself wondering how the Church will be available to others in society to help them find their way out of this tough period. I’m fascinated that before COVID hit our shores the Wellbeing Cafe movement was well underway. My understanding is that during COVID a number of communities have begun virtual Wellbeing Cafes. Spaces for people to just be and to be listened to. Ruby Wax, the founder of Frazzled Cafe, once said, “Being heard, to me, has always been half the cure.”
I’m encouraged when I hear of churches that are beginning to consider how they might respond to this need through ‘Wellbeing Cafes’, listening services and support groups that will give people time and space to process what has happened but also rediscover their feet through new rhythms of health and wellbeing.
A Time to Grieve
One of the most difficult things during this time for many people has been the lack of opportunity to mourn and grieve the consequences of this pandemic. I am wondering whether there might be a wave of unexpressed grief both individually but also corporately. The vast majority of people will have known at least one person who has died of COVID or passed away during this time when a full and ‘proper’ process for giving thanks and the availability to comfort each other just hasn’t been allowed to take place. I fear that it would be very easy for this lack of formalised grief to be forgotten as we celebrate the easing of lockdown and restrictions. Churches could have a key role to play in giving people time and space to give thanks for those who have passed away and to grieve together in an appropriate and respectful manner.
We could also prepare ourselves to be available to pastorally support those who have lost loved ones during this period and who are still dealing with their own grief alongside the guilt of having a funeral process that fell below their expectations and needs. Churches again could be playing a key role here in revisiting those who are grieving and giving space and time to allow this extraordinary and unprecedented grief to be expressed and comforted.
A Time to Re-evaluate
The third wave that may be on the horizon is one of re-evaluating all that has happened and how that has impacted the things that we hold as being important. I can’t imagine that there are too many people who have not stopped during the past year and asked themselves some very deep and fundamental questions about their lives, values and beliefs.
I have been encouraged in recent months by a number of churches that have been hosting ‘Alpha’ type events online and found a good uptake of people wishing to engage. I have just heard from one of our pioneers of a number of people that have sought him out for conversations during this time of lockdown, wanting to find a person to reflect with and process their thoughts and emotions. This seems to me a real opportunity. Moments of disaster and crisis will always create a desire to question and to review.
I’m not sure how large this wave might be or how long it might last but I think it might be significant enough for those churches who dare to ride it to discover opportunities to share the story, values and beliefs of the Christian faith with people who are keen to re-evaluate.
Of course, I might be wrong about all these potential waves and there may be others that are heading toward the coastline but I do think all three are worth considering and possibly attempting to ride as we come out of this long period of lockdown. The period of COVID that we have experienced has been unprecedented and challenging but the season that we are about to enter into may be one that brings waves of fresh and new opportunities. May the Spirit of God prepare his Church for such a time as this and lift us up onto each new wave, enabling the good news of Christ to be seen and shared with all that will hear.