Advent is a new beginning in the Christian calendar. This Advent is more special than ever as we are emerging from the Pandemic and trying to reconstruct many aspects of our lives as the “next normal.” Indian author Arundhati Roy said in her article, ‘The Pandemic Is A Portal,’ that the pandemic is a gateway between one world and the next. We usually consider Advent a season of waiting. However, I want us to shift our mindset from waiting to active longing. The sense of waiting sounds passive to me. Active longing inaugurates hope with actions that God is leading us into “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). As Henry Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic theologian, said, “The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.”
Jesus led the Next Church movement in the first century in Roman Judea when he proclaimed a God of redeeming grace for all nations, not just for the Jews and salvation by faith, not by keeping the law. He instituted baptism by the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s Supper for the new church served by disciples of Jesus Christ.
So, what is God’s calling for the church in the post-pandemic era? What kind of church is God forming in the world, and how can BUMC respond to the call of the Advent of the Next Church?
A digital transformation and expansion in e-commerce widened a gap between the technologically advanced and disadvantaged; women, the elderly, and those who cannot afford data fees are further marginalized globally. In addition, we see a growing nationalism that threatens our attempts to build a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable world because of financial challenges created during the Pandemic. What would be the role of the Next Church when over 8,000 migrants have been relocated to the Washington, DC area since April of 2022?
BUMC has been “Re-imagining the church” this year. Like other churches, we have had to deal with declines in attendance and resources during the pandemic. According to the Barna Group, in 2020, one in three practicing Christians dropped out of church completely at the beginning of COVID-19. Church membership in the US dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 2020, according to Gallup data dating back to 1940. However, BUMC has been maintaining an average of 200-250 attendance in-person and online combined in 2022, which is about the same as before the pandemic. God has blessed BUMC with faithful members supporting the church with their prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
Now, as we enter the portal to the Next Church, I urge us to embrace the moment for the new vision of a church: How can children, Millennials (23 to 38), Gen Xers (39 to 54), Baby Boomers (55 to 73) and the Silent Generation (74 to 91) live together in the post-pandemic era? What would be the church’s role in the face of further polarization of those who have and have not? What kind of ministry is God calling BUMC to focus on so that we will continue to be a ‘Wash More Feet’ congregation in the Next Church?
Henri Nouwen said, “The Lord is coming, always coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.”
Certainly, God is opening a new era of the Next Church for us. Christ came even when he was uninvited. May God open our ears and eyes to recognize the new vision of Christ for the post-pandemic world.
-Rev. Dr. HiRho Park