By Charlotte Rakestraw, GCI Social Media and Graphics Coordinator
For almost two years, we have been emphasizing the three Avenues of our Team-Based, Pastor-Led ministry at Grace Communion International. The Love Avenue embodies external outreach; the Faith Avenue encompasses our internal life groups; the Hope Avenue focuses on gathering together as a church through worship services. This year’s focus is the Hope Avenue with our motto: Focused on Hope. We are all probably thinking it, so I am just going to say it, how ironic is it that our focus this year happens to be the worship service, which we cannot physically attend because we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic? How are we supposed to focus on the Hope Avenue, when it traditionally consists of a gathering of the people?
Part of the answer is focusing on three keywords of the Hope Avenue: inspirational, inclusive, and intentional.
Hope is Inspirational
Have you ever stopped in wonder and awe at the glow of the moon at night? Contrasted with the dark velvet sky, its presence demands attention and has inspired many a lonely soul. Not only is Jesus the light, he calls us to be a radiant light to others. So we can look at the inspirational aspect of the Hope Avenue in two ways—Jesus inspiring us, and our inspiring others.
As many of us stay in our homes, we have been forced to pray about and rethink what our worship services look like when we cannot come together in person. The results have been inspiring, and we at the Home Office have been impressed with and grateful for the creativity and determination we have seen borne out of this season from our pastors and leaders around the world. Jesus is inspiring the church to reach out in ways we never imagined, and the numbers we are reaching is incredible. Churches with a normal attendance of 25-40 people are reaching hundreds via Facebook Live or other social media platforms. And this is only the beginning. We are seeing more and more pastors, leaders and members take this time to dig deeper into what it looks like to be a believer. We have all seen the need for hope.
So let’s get practical. As we participate in the promise of Jesus’ hope, we too, can be a light in the darkness, inspiring others simply by continuing to radiate his light. In practical ways, perhaps you are inspiring your members and friends through encouraging communication—sharing praise reports and devotionals, going through your neighborhood writing inspirational quotes in chalk. The very things we do at church, we can still do—through social media, phone calls, cards, text messages, etc. I’ve seen others using their gifts and talents to make masks for their community, inspiring a trend in these volunteer acts through social media in other communities. This is a time when the Faith, Hope and Love avenues intersect.
Hope is Inclusive
Consider those you know who are in complete isolation. While writing this, I am ending my 2nd month of self-isolation, wondering how I can possibly write about hope when it sometimes feels so far away. Shouldn’t someone more qualified write this article? Someone who hasn’t spent 60 days straight without hugging, talking face-to-face with, or even standing nearby another person? As someone with a chronic illness and compromised immunity, it is possible I may be in isolation for a while yet. I am writing this article for myself as much as I am for you, because I have felt hopeless at times during this season of uncertainty, but that feeling doesn’t change the truth that there is Hope and his name is Jesus. Not only does he give me hope, but he reminds me I’m included in the love and life he shares with others. He does this in many ways in my quiet times with him, and by inspiring relational connections—prodding me to reach out to others and inspiring others to reach out to me.
There are many practical ways to make people feel included during “shelter in place” guidelines. Write a list of the names of those who are still in isolation, hang the list on your fridge, stick it to your computer, find ways to remember and honor them in the day-to-day. Something as simple as planning a virtual game night for family and friends could make a big difference. As one of these such people, I can confirm that the days blur together, and if not for technology keeping me afloat, I wouldn’t know what day or hour I was living in at any given moment. Being isolated has ways of playing tricks on the mind, and as creatures made for relationship, it is easy to sink into feelings of loneliness, despair, and hopelessness. In these last two months, the inclusivity of my friends, colleagues and church members has renewed my sense of hope, and to a greater extent, my purpose and identity. If not for them remembering me and calling me up just to say they were thinking of me and missing me, I would likely be in a very different state of mind right now.
All of us need friends and a church family that is lovingly inclusive, making sure people are not forgotten and reminding them Jesus will never forget them and that is why we place our hope in him. To the shut-ins, the ill, the family members who have lost loved ones, no matter how broken we feel, we are included in the hope of Christ, and though we cannot remind people of this each week in our normal worship environment, we are still called to bring them to hope and remind each other of this hope through our actions and by living out the inclusivity of Christ to the best of our ability.
Hope is Intentional
Jesus is intentional—nothing he did was unplanned. The Incarnation was planned before the foundation of the earth. His death, resurrection, ascension and return were all part of an intentional plan to bring us into intimate relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. Placing our trust in Jesus, we hope for better, hope for healing, hope for redemption. If our present reality were perfection, we would have nothing to hope for. As Christians, we know our hope lies in Christ. This means we trust that he is working all things together for our good. Just because we’ve not been able to meet at church these past several weeks does not mean Jesus hasn’t been intentional and active.
Practically speaking, what does this look like on our parts? While many of us are patiently waiting to meet together in person—and very thankful for Zoom and other social media platforms that enable us to see and share with each other—we are still focused on the hope we have in Christ, and we look for ways to share that hope. During this worldwide pandemic we have been given a season of waiting—in our daily lives, as congregations who had plans to explore the Hope Avenue and start making changes, and as a denomination waiting another year to reunite in celebration. It could be argued that patience is the hardest practice for many of us. I agree with this. We often mistake patience as a roadblock when it really is a retreat.
During this time of waiting, some of us have gotten some much-needed rest and have used the time to recharge. Others are using the time to reevaluate every aspect of the Hope Avenue, to ask God for his direction, to listen. As the Psalmist said, to allow ourselves the luxury of slowing down a bit, to listen, to “be still and know that I am God.” I believe one of the things God is reminding us is that we are participating in the living hope. Taking this time to abide in God’s presence enables us to trust that he is in absolute control.
How can you help people realize the hope they have in Christ? Intentional phone calls? Zoom Bible studies, chats or game nights. Sending cards to neighbors in the one square mile telling them you are praying for them and looking forward to finding new ways to serve the community. Being intentional about finding ways to reach out to others during this time. One of my pastors recently started a life group for our fellowship. While this online meeting sounds more like part of the Faith Avenue, it has been a source of hope during this time of shelter-in-place and has become a welcome space for sharing Scripture, prayer requests, and intentionally connecting with each other.
We aren’t sure what the new “normal” will look like, but we do know this: God has called us to share hope that is inspirational, inclusive and intentional. The result will be healthier churches.