Let’s be honest….this social distancing is getting old and wearing thin. No I’m not suggesting in any way that we should ignore the need for safety protocols.
Instead, I’m simply acknowledging the effects of long-term social distancing on the body of Christ. Remaining distant from one another as church family is not interesting, unique, or appealing in any way at this point.
When we turned the page on 2020, one could almost hear an audible collective sigh of relief rising from the common collective of humankind on this planet.
Then, when the inauguration came and went without bloodshed, we could sense the tension level in our common life drop again.
All this is good and well, and yet…this pandemic is not done with us yet. Sure, there is hope as the vaccines roll out and Springtime is around the corner. Simultaneously, we aren’t there yet.
Last Fall I wrote an article on Pastoral Separation Syndrome, describing the distance pastors sense with their people.
Now, listening closely on this side of the New Year, it’s clear that many disciples in churches are feeling the effects of prolonged in-person distance from their church communities.
The connection strategies we used early on during this pandemic which were helpful are wearing thin. In fact, many of us may be diagnosable with Church Separation Syndrome.
Though this is a fictitious syndrome, it captures what many of us are experiencing.
I’ve identified some symptoms of Church Separation Syndrome, and I suspect you could add more to this list.
So, where to from here? Well, the next step in “treatment” after symptom identification and accurate diagnosis is intervention. Here are some ideas for intervening in this current situation. Those who are suffering from Church Separation Syndrome may alleviate symptoms through these actions.
Accepting this current situation—Recognizing and accepting that this is one of the losses during a pandemic, freeing oneself from excessive and unrealistic effort toward re-creating the impossible.
Grieving the losses—Turning to Psalms of Lament along with OT prophets like Jeremiah, giving self permission to grieve the losses during this forced separation time.
Recognizing the temporary nature of this pandemic—Affirming that this too shall pass.
Identifying the numerous and creative ways people in many fields are finding to connect and interact, learning from others.
Letting spiritual imaginations run wild, identifying even the craziest ideas for how to connect with our people.
Schedule online gatherings with church family for conversation about these concerns, lamenting together while also dreaming next steps.
With careful diagnosis, followed by effective intervention and treatment, the good news is that we don’t have to suffer indefinitely with Church Separation Syndrome. Symptom relief and a strong recovery is the prognosis when we connect with each other in the ways we can, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us onward.
Ultimately, regardless of how long our symptom list grows, we are not a people without hope. In fact, if there is any group of people in this world who should be moving forward, regardless of adverse circumstances, it is God’s Church.
We know how the story ends; with God’s kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven. The long look, seeing through the eyes of faith, produces energy and perseverance during this relatively short season of separation. God’s Church goes on…and we ARE God’s Church. Come what may, we ARE God’s Church.
With a keen curiosity about life, Mark explores the intersection of faith, church, and 21st century living. Mark has served as a pastor, new church developer, interim pastor, renewal pastor, therapist, nonprofit director, business owner, leadership coach, congregational consultant, leadership trainer, and author.
Ordained in the Baptist Tradition, Mark is an ecumenical Christian minister at this point along the way. Mark is a frequent presenter in lay leadership team retreats, clergy gatherings, and denominational gatherings. Each of the services offered by Pinnacle Leadership Associates are areas of ministry in which Mark is active, enjoying the opportunity to engage clients around forward movement.
Mark’s most recent book, Reshape: Emerging Church Practice In A Volatile World, published in August 2020, invites churches to use this volatile experience for transformation and growth.
Mark lives in Chapin, SC.