Post Author: The Rev. Merianna Harrelson
In the church calendar, Ordinary Time spans the Sunday after Pentecost through the Sunday before Advent begins. It’s the longest stretch of time in the church calendar. It is also the time when many members of the clergy are able to vacation, attend professional conferences, and reconnect with family and colleagues.
This year is different. These ordinary times are not so ordinary as we again hear reports of rising COVID case numbers coupled with baby formular shortages, food recalls, and rising gas prices. In these not so ordinary times, pastors and clergy are finding it more and more difficult to ward off burnout and cling to hope. There is no chance for pastors to proclaim a “return to normalcy” or to proclaim a “post-Covid” time. This is a new reality and one that isn’t in any way ordinary.
If there is ever a time, pastors need things to be ordinary just for a bit, it’s now. After years of adapting and modifying worship experiences to include outdoor worship, drive thru communion, and other ways for their congregants to experience God, pastors are exhausted. Including a virtual congregation because of the limitations involved with in-person worship has asked pastors to include more worship options meaning more preparation time and more energy spent each Sunday.
Even with all the extra work pastors have been investing, there are still many, many people who haven’t returned to church. A recent article in Christianity Today reported: “In 2022, the constant cycle of hope and disappointment will give way to the new reality that this is your church. It will become evident that some of the people who said they’re coming back later clearly aren’t coming back—ever.” Pastors are feeling the effect of that constant cycle without the support of growing congregations.
Usually, the ebb and flow of the church calendar brings both a reminder of the holiness of the Divine closely followed by the Divine among us in the sacred ordinary. The church calendar tells the story of God coming to dwell among us, Jesus teaching, the power of resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a story thousands of years old; a story we need in the midst of these not so ordinary times.
Maybe these not so ordinary times are a reminder not only of God’s presence and God’s power, but also an invitation to revisit others who have clung to hope and clung to God in not so ordinary times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor in the midst of Nazi Germany wrote this in his book Ethics: “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility… this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
Maybe connecting to these stories of God’s people clinging to the gospel and finding peace and comfort during not so ordinary times is exactly what we need to turn our not so ordinary times into an extraordinary reminder that God loves the world, not an ideal world, but this world that God’s people are living in right here and now. Maybe that reminder of God’s love for us is what will transform this world into something extraordinary.
The Rev. Merianna Harrelson is the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ. She is the author of Morning Light: A 30-Day Devotion Journey and Toast the Day: A 30-Day Prayer Journey. She is also a Spiritual Director.
Image by: The Rev. Merianna Harrelson
Used with permission