By Zeke Stephenson
Associate Pastor of Youth and Families
First Baptist Church, Orangeburg  

At the end of each calendar year, I always find it funny when people say “gosh, I am so ready for (insert the year that they are just finishing) to be over, and I can’t wait for (insert year they are about to enter) to begin.

At the end of some years, I have found myself falling into that same mindset. However, comments like that strike me as odd, because we have no idea what the next year is going to hold. That has never been more true than it has been for 2020.

The year started off with the death of Kobe Bryant, the famed NBA basketball star, and his daughter in a helicopter crash. And it wasn’t long after that, that we began hearing mumblings from a land far, far away that a novel Corona Virus was ravaging parts of the country. Before long, the virus began to spread, and we realized that it was a matter of time before it crept into our own communities. But even then, I don’t think we ever realized the impact that it would have on our everyday lives.

Being a minister in a congregational setting during the COVID-19 pandemic has had its challenges. In the middle of March, as schools were closing, businesses were sending employees to work from home or closing down all together, we had to cancel all in-person gatherings until further notice. We all thought that within a couple of weeks, we would be back in sanctuaries, just in time for the highly anticipated Easter celebration. And then things began getting worse, hospitals were filling up, people were dying, and fear gripped us all. “When is this ever going to end?” is the question that we all asked ourselves.

As a minister to students and teenagers, the reality of this thing really hit me when the summer activities began to be canceled.

Our beloved PASSPORT camps that my students look forward to attending each summer was no longer an option. Our yearly mission trip that our high schoolers go on each year was no longer an opportunity. The times that we gather during the week was no longer accessible to us. And to add insult to injury, having been doing ministry through Zoom for the better part of three months caused us all to have Zoom fatigue!

For student ministry, the summer is such an important part of our ministry year. The camps and the mission trips set up what happens in student ministry for the rest of the year. The memories and experiences of a summer trip gives a ministry momentum moving into the school year. Due to the disruption of our spring and summer, many ministries, including mine, are suffering because of it.

And now we find ourselves creeping up on the “back to school” season without a clear way forward. That has brought me, brought us all to the question of: “well what in the world do we do now?”

I have gotten really tired of the phrase that we have heard over and over again: “we just have to find our new normal.” But as I come out of a summer that has looked nothing like any other summer I have experienced, literally since I started in youth group as a 6th grader; I am convinced that a new normal is what we must move towards, and that is my goal as I plan programing for the fall.

It is hard work, and it is uncertain work. It is work that will make us want to pull our hair out because we know very well that the reality that we find ourselves in today, will not be the reality of where we will find ourselves tomorrow, two weeks from now, or a month from now.

The uncertain times that we find ourselves in today and the time we have found ourselves in over the last five months has not changed my calling, nor has it changed the church’s mission. That is what is carrying me into the fall, because that is my calling; to care for the spiritual wellbeing of teenagers and their families. That is my calling regardless of what is happening in the world around me.

Our church’s calling is to make disciples and then send us out into the world, despite what is happen in the world around us. The beauty of this is that the way forward has 100 different paths for us as the church to take, and all those paths lead towards the same end.

So keep the faith, be flexible, and be obedient to the calling that God continues to beckon us towards, despite what is going on around us. 

Rev. Zeke Stephenson
Associate Pastor of Youth and Families
First Baptist Church, Orangeburg
M.Div, McAfee School of Theology
Office: (803) 534-2960
Cell: (828) 305-2183