This six-part series and additional resources are provided through the work of Iowa Conference Parish Development.
It certainly feels like we have been up, down, and all-around during the last couple of years. Some relationships have been strengthened or made, but others have been diminished or torn apart. Our relationships with others seem to have mainly taken one of only two paths; made/strengthened or lost. While perhaps there were some who hovered on the edges, there appears to have been little tendency to just “let things sit” when it came to relationships, as has often happened in the past. Instead, did it often feel like lines were drawn – either to separate or include?
“A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 NRSV
There are various reasons it has seemingly become more difficult to “love at all times” in the recent past and our current reality. This space is only large enough to cast light on our realities, not to diagnose and treat. That is for the relationship experts to decipher. Our lives have changed and so have our relationships.
In our personal relationships, our sense of loss may be driving us to renew some relationships which have fallen to the wayside in the last few years. Tentatively reaching out to inquire about an individual or a particular situation we know to be troublesome for that person. We step forward with the hope of reaffirming our love for our friend and their life. Our hope is that in reconnection we can restore the relationship that once was, and perhaps even yearn to improve that relationship. When those restorations happen, we praise God and look for ways that we can support and nurture each other with a renewed sense of togetherness. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always have a positive outcome, despite our yearnings and prayers. In those times we trust God to move with us, to guide us, through that pain to a place of peace. This is not an overnight process, but a necessary one.
It might also be said that we separated ourselves from others, and not just with social distancing, but emotionally over that recent past. When we no longer had to “perform” socially, it sure was easy to just do our own thing, whether as an individual or family. While there is merit to taking time alone, and some of us do thrive there, it can also be detrimental to us emotionally and functionally to be isolated for extended periods. For many, it has become difficult during our time of “re-entry” back into the world. In the opening line of their book Living the Five
, Jim and Jennifer Cowart put it like this, “One of the first things Jesus did when he began his earthly ministry was to recruit a ragtag bunch…in the beginning, they were simply Jesus’s friends…If Jesus needed to walk through life with other people, we definitely do. Yet so often we isolate ourselves, leaving ourselves open to temptation, loneliness, and all kinds of negative influences and bad decisions. We’re stronger when we’re not alone. God created us to need each other as we live out our commitment to Jesus.” (p. 2).
Many of the same things can be said for our relationships in the church and the Church. There has been separation and isolation from each other physically, and in all too many cases that have ended up being a relational pulling away as well. We add to that dynamic the explosion in the housing industry and suddenly as the church moves out of global pandemic mode, we have new neighbors, or maybe no neighbors! In this case, the question may not be so much how to reconnect with an individual, but an entire neighborhood or community. A daunting task in the best of times!
Jaye Johnson, Iowa Conference Director of Congregational Excellence, in conversations with North Texas Conference, has explored a way to reconnect or initially connect with folks in our post-pandemic communities with a form of neighborhood/community mapping, using Mission Insite. This could be utilized for any size church, in any size community, urban, suburban, or rural. Jaye is available to help you get started with this process and to help you along the journey. You can follow this link, https://www.iaumc.org/congregationalexcellence
to access Congregational Excellence staff, resources, and assistance. Mission Insite is an invaluable tool in assessing the make up of your community and Associate Director of Congregational Excellence, Ryan Christenson has done a great job of updating instructional tools for exploring the website, which has had its own recent updates. Here is the link
for all things Mission Insite. Mission Insite is provided for local church use through the Iowa Conference.
We may be lonely for or injured in relationships, and yet are hesitant to reconnect with our community, our neighbors, and in some instances, even our church. We may have felt separated by more than physical distance. In some way, each may have harmed us or those we love. In some way, each may have loved us or those we love. It will take time and effort, but the song of our heart resounds, “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’… ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40 NRSV)
We long to obey.
As we share what we hope are some helpful tools or resources, know that we are very aware that we are all at different places at different times in whatever process we are moving through. This includes times of healing, moving forward, or sitting just a bit longer in the sacred space you are currently experiencing. Know Parish Development is here to assist you and your faith community as you move through phases of reconnection, however, or whenever that may occur.
Next week we will wrap up our series. We welcome the sharing of your reflections and experiences concerning relationships of every kind in this unique time in our lives. Also welcomed, would be your suggestions concerning how Iowa Conference Parish Development, or other resources, might be able to help you through this time of Reconnecting Our Relationships.
Read previous On the Way Back Together messages here.