The challenge for a vision for PCNSW post-COVID

By John Irvin

One cough echoed around the world, and with it the world changed. It has even changed our life as Presbyterians in NSW.

The question has been asked “What will the Presbyterian Church look like on the other side of CoVid? … What Vision can we impart to our people?”

Even though I think in pictures, I find Vision Statements hard work – sort of like reducing the wonder and complexity of a life into the few words that can fit on a headstone.

So, let me paint a familiar image.

When you are in the rapids, in turbulent white water of change, and you are frantically paddling to stay afloat while navigating the next threatening rock that’s emerged, it doesn’t matter what’s behind you. What matters is who is with you; who is in your raft.

“Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” (Isaiah 43vs1,2)

In any Vision we form, front and centre is the Lord Emmanuel, God with us.

To flip the image, this seismic disruption in the world has put everything including the church into an operational freefall. Skydiving minus the parachute.

Everything has been ripped from under our feet. Everywhere is shifting sand. All the familiar that we have looked to for structure and comfort and meaning and purpose are in the melting pot. We are scrambling for some patch – any patch of solid ground.

And yet our feet have been planted firmly on solid Rock, and that Rock has not moved and that Rock will not move.

“O come, let us sing to the Lord.
Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation.” (Psalm 95v1)

Even if it feels to us that we are in freefall, the true truth is we have already landed in the eternal hands of our loving God.

Jesus said “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Fathers hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:29-30)

What more secure place is there, than to be in the hand of God?

And to flip the image yet again …

Do you feel like we’re being hammered like a lump of hot iron, and try as we might we can’t crawl off the anvil?

Yet whose breath but the Lord’s fills the bellows, fuelling the flames into a white-blue blaze?
And whose hand but the Lord’s wields the hammer, purposely forging us with each blow into the people he calls us to be?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he may be the first-born among many brothers. (Romans 8v28,29)

So as CoVid continues to disrupt, let’s individually and collectively keep our eyes on Jesus, taking in what He is doing in and with his world. He has always been active; it’s just that now we are being forced to sit back and take notice.

What will our Presbyterian congregations look like on the other side of the CoVid horizon?
We will still be part of God’s redeemed; yet will we be different as his cherished people?

Will we return to our familiar ways of ‘doing church’, or will we embrace new ways of being church?

Will we invite people to come to church to find Jesus, or as we live in Christ will we share Jesus with our friends by our very life?

Will we see the world as something we have to reach out to, or will we see ourselves as members of a shared humanity, infusing Jesus into the everyday stuff of struggles and laughter, of the mundane and the meaning of life conversations?

We have no detailed blueprint for how God will direct each step of our transformation into his likeness, but we do know Him.

As John says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2-3)

So, when we emerge from CoVid, our purpose will be to live out a clearer vision of our incredible God … the God who triggered all this with a cough.