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Guidance in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

November 12, 2020
Thomas Merton’s denim jacket and denim shirt on display at the Merton Center on Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky

We are once again looking at alarming spikes in COVID-19 infection rates and death rates. Congregations (including the one I am currently serving in Georgia) have either gone back to in-person worship or have been making plans to do so. Our congregation has had three outdoor worship services. Outdoor services are much easier to do, weather wise, in Georgia than they are in Colorado!

Pastors and faith community leaders have had to navigate these tricky waters, often without any sort of a guide. I guess you could add this to the list of things they never taught me in seminary which also includes designing and running virtual worship via Zoom. Of course, if you are of a certain age like me, we didn’t even have personal computers in seminary back in the day.

Last night I had to make the decision about in-person worship. The infection and death rates are continuing to climb and I don’t see them leveling out any time soon. Until further notice we are going to keep going with our Virtual Worship services and are discussing how to create a meaning-filled Christmas Eve service.

For regular readers of my blog, it will come as no surprise that I turned to one of my spiritual mentors in the discernment process. As I sat in my office I wondered what sort of advice Thomas Merton would offer to me and to other faith leaders who are facing such a time as this.

My brother and mentor spoke to me through the words of his well known prayer for discernment.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thoughts in Solitude, p. 79)

As our community, state, nation, and world continues to navigate this global pandemic, my prayer is that we will make decisions based on a community of caring and love and not to suit individual desires. Even though I miss in-person worship and mourn the fact that I am not able to meet my new congregation in the typical fashion (worship and fellowship), I am more concerned about the health and well-being of the congregation.

In the midst of this, Merton’s prayer speaks to my heart and soul. I am doing the best that I can to navigate these uncharted waters. Our church leadership is doing the best they can as well. Together we are walking this “interesting” journey together.

So as I pray with Thomas Merton, I especially lift up this particular portion: Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. May God in community, holy in one (as my friend and colleague Pastor Thom M. Shuman prays) guide us through these difficult times with grace and a humble spirit.

8 Comments
  1. Betty Williams permalink

    Thank you to you and those involved in what seems to be a very wise decision.

  2. Michael, thank you for this post. Wouldn’t it be nice if discernment provided quick, obvious and correct answers! However, we are human and often journey with no absolute certainty we’re on the right trail. I particularly liked the first part of the passage you quoted from Merton:
    “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
    You and all church leaders have my prayers at this difficult time.

  3. What a timely prayer from Thomas Merton. It’s so fitting for the circumstances we find ourselves in. These days are defined by uncertainty and the need to be adaptable to change. You’re doing a great job, Michael, as are all clergy leaders and ministers who seek to keep the communication, teaching and support channels open for their people as they discover new ways in which to operate as the Body of Christ. Bless you, my friend. ❤️

  4. Dita Pickering permalink

    I agree with Betty. Although I miss our beautiful sanctuary, I have found our virtual services very meaningful. I do look forward to someday being able to meet and hug, real hugs not virtual!
    I try to read your blog daily and am really inspired by your reflections. And, the photographs are great. Thank you.

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