Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl Interim Bishop, Northeastern Iowa Synod/ELCA

I’ve been taking some pictures as I get acquainted with my new surroundings in Northeastern Iowa. Snapshots of my walking path near my home show fields ready to harvest and fog lingering in the low spots. I am a preacher, which sometimes means everything I see is a sermon illustration. In this case, the analogy of ‘fields ripe unto harvest’ and our own spiritual journey in this time of COVID catches my attention, with perhaps a light lingering fog attached as well.

I hear the concern in both lay and rostered leaders’ voices as they consider how and when, as well as what protocols to follow if their area infection numbers go even higher. There is fear in this time for all of us; and there is also impatience with what feels like an extraordinarily long time of being out of our usual habits and practices. I’m reminded of the image in my neighboring field of a combine sitting idle while a ripened field stands behind it.

What does it mean to be the Church in this time? We may feel being Church always has meant being in Church, and now that most of us are virtually connected rather than physically present with one another, we have to re-think what it means to be the people of God in this time.

So many congregations are working through their concerns about being able to resume in-person worship.

We are an Evangelical church, called by God to reach out to neighbor and stranger with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have often described that reaching out as being welcoming to those who come to our building for a service. We probably haven’t thought about the ‘virtual’ welcome of online services and Zoom gatherings as part of what it may mean to reach out in Jesus’ name. Many congregations are reaching people in their areas with their online worship services whom they wouldn’t have met or known about apart from this Covid- driven time. There are fully “ripe fields” right near us which we are now given the opportunity to see and engage with in new ways. Welcome in Jesus’ name has new meaning because of the necessity of virtual worship, as well as other virtual church programs.

And about that lingering fog … we certainly are not in a time of clear-sightedness as to how long the virus will last and when an ‘all-clear’ may sound. It can be very frustrating to navigate in fog, even with all the right lights and proper care taken. The life of faith is similar, isn’t it? We can’t always see clearly where God is leading us; we can’t always travel on familiar roads where we kind of know the lay of the land, but we are called nonetheless to follow the God who brings light in the darkness and hope in the face of despair and fear. We do the best we can, knowing what we know now and trusting that when a break in the fog comes, we can seize that clarity and move ahead with even greater confidence.

“Better Days Ahead” is a favorite phrase of mine in these times.

It could have always been a favorite phrase, truth be told. God promises a future filled with hope — a new life for now and into eternity. For now, there’s this ripe field, and a little lingering fog for us to continue through as we follow God’s call to welcome others in Jesus’ name.

Published in the October 2020 STAR

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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