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IRCA eNews
October 2020

God, when we sit at the edge of hope and uncertainty, fill our hearts with your peace which surpasses all understanding.
This newsletter has a collection of pieces in response to this place we are in, all of us across the planet, at the edge of hope and uncertainty. By means of these reflections, we seek to share the faith of their writers and trigger the faithful responses among among those who read them. 

We all sit in places of need, some more life-threatening than others, all at risk of being overwhelmed by fear and powerlessness.  

Our network is an opportunity to share faith in the face of this risk. To encourage, to inspire hope, and to accompany one another in the presence of God through our prayers.

May God bless us all

COVID REFLECTIONS

BEING UNABLE TO GATHER - WILL WE RETURN?

 
After my retirement from episcopal ministry, God has given to Lily and me the blessing of a peaceful life with our family. We came to the US for the birth of our daughter's child and we are enjoying the life of "baby sitting” in Peoria, Illinois. Becoming a grandfather is a special experience. I am really getting plenty of time for myself now. No more hectic travels for long hours on Indian roads, never ending conflict resolutions among pastors, competing church elections, fighting committees/board meetings, and of course cherished ministry among rural dalith communities - all remain wonderful memories now. Meanwhile Covid 19 has become a nightmare. There are countries which are fortunately shielded from this virus to a great extent. India and the US are competing for the first place in positive cases in millions day by day. No Sunday worship, no church fellowship, no singing hymns, no planning programs, just sit on TV for listening to online sermons of our own choice.
   
Last Sunday I could not help but venture to a nearby Korean church. It was perfect time of worship in such a beautiful church with lovely flower garden around. But the church was locked tight. No one I could see around. In front of the main door I stood and heard the sound of Psalmist saying “one day at the door post of your temple is like thousand days”. What will happen to these gorgeous structures if there are no worship serivces in them!  I had my prayer for return of the past glory and came back home.
 
Faith communities used to wait for the whole week to attend the church worship, meet the choir group, sing praises to the Lord, bring confession in the presence of the lord, hear sermons of the pastor, receive the sacraments, and meet friends and fellow worshippers. Joyously we would finally say goodbye to the pastor and go home to wait for the next Sunday.
 
Corona came and now everything is frozen. Thousands are losing lives each day in India, fear compounds and haunts us, people are stuck in home quarantine, shops are closed, roads are blocked, and the nation is under lockdown situation, with churches closed for worship.  Days and months are passing by in this pandemic isolation of life. The whole world is wondering whether this virus can be subdued by human efforts.

The age-long tradition of going to the church has become a mirage and the ministry of the church seems to have come to a point of redefinition. I am sure the enthusiasm and commitment of the faith communities all over the world will bubble up into something new in church life. Covid-19 seems to be an unknown enemy to liquidate the very fabric of human life. The web of human connections seems to become fragile and vulnerable.  Is this pandemic the end of everything!? Leaders and organizations of our churches need to evolve into a new culture of its life and work. The urgency is that the church needs to become real hope to the hopeless.
 

The Plight of the Poor

 
In India millions of poor labouring families had migrated to other states for survival. Now they have no work to do as the companies are closed and workers are retrenched. An unending flow of these crowds of poor laborers started walking for miles and days along with their women and children to get back to their villages. Their struggles on the roadside are really miserable with no food nor shelter in the scorching sun. The poverty of slum dwellers is so extreme that it is almost exploding on society with growing gangs of criminals taking on anti-social targets. Politicians are busy blaming each other but coming up with no remedy.
 
India’s caseload is rising towards the second largest in the world. The authorities in Chennai have imposed a strict lockdown since June 20. On the other hand, Delhi, which has the third-highest number of cases, remains open. Delhi’s neighbor Uttar Pradesh is fighting in the Supreme Court to keep its border with Delhi sealed. Maharashtra, the worst-affected state of India, provides an ugly caricature of this pandemic: Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, has become a den of deaths. The fact remains that social distancing is impossible in the slum where as many as 80 residents share one toilet. The police force is spread thin with multiple departments being quarantined. In Andhra Pradesh the chief minister, the only Christian politician, had to give a strong warning to private hospitals which are demanding exuberant charges, even as patients were dying the very next day. 
 
With churches closed they have no idea where to re-engage their ministry of helping the poor. Most of the small private church pastors are in terrible poverty themselves, with no money from the churches for months. Pastors who desperate open the church for worship secretly during very early hours of the day are becoming victims to RSS (Hindu fanatic group) harassment. Many such pastors are beaten or put in jail. The denominational leaders have left their pastors to their own struggles to survive. Very few pastors are able to do the online worship and ask for offertory by phone-pay. Extreme Hindus are ridiculing the churches.
 

How Can We Respond?

 
For sure the church has to enter into a new fabric of ministry in the post pandemic period. Strange challenges for the church are obvious. Church finances will greatly be dented. An atmosphere of discouragement is like a cloud among church members. Impersonal digital groups are emerging to choose digital sermons of their own choice. Denominational loyalties among members (good or bad) are getting relaxed.  For most of the members the Sunday routine will be greatly at variance from their usual.
 
My fearful wild guess is that most of the moderate churches will run like religious web centers. If not 24/7 at least 8/5, most of these web-center-churches will work with knowledgeable software volunteers to provide one call-center in each closet like Sunday school, youth ministry, women’s fellowship, senior citizen fellowship, lay pastors cell, choir singing closet, counselling center, and pastor’s appointments. So the pews may be replaced with these "closets". All these web-volunteers work only on appointments of first come first served basis. Anyone who wants any service can sign in to that particular closet. Those who want to sing hymns or praise and worship can sign in to that cell and ask to switch on to the choice of channel with earphones and can sing for a time slot, like “Korean norebong”.  Who knows, these web volunteers may also start “work from home” on behalf of these spiritual-banks (churches).
 
IRCA is founded on a strong passion for the rural Christian communities with deep concerns for their holistic socio-cultural community life. We need now to ponder upon exploring new alternatives and workable options for their spiritual nurture, health care, societal security and a global solidarity. Rural churches need to rejuvenate out of the disastrous impact of Covid 19. Conference after conference the leadership is carefully grappling to provide relevant knowledge and experiences to the participants about the global scenario of rural ministries, which are unique from region to region. I wish all the best for the leaders of IRCA in designing the ensuing sixth quadrennial conference with revolutionary ideas relevant to the future of rural churches in the post pandemic era of our planet.
 
Prasad
The Rt.Rev.Dr.B.D. Prasada Rao
Bishop Emeritus Rayalaseema
It seems there is no greater cauldron for change and transformation than some descent into darkness, a whale’s belly. Then after time - a period of incubation - being spewed out onto new shores; or like a newborn, struggle from the womb. Just when we think the end has come, a new day dawns. 
 
Liz Milani

“WE ARE HERE FOR A CRISIS; THIS IS OUR TIME”


“In the world of uncertainty, we may not be certain of the future but we are certain of who holds the future.” So said Christian leader and author Kris Vallotton at a webinar I was on recently.
 
Covid has brought grief or disappointment for many. After a year of excited preparation for the event of a lifetime, my daughter and fiancé were the last people to be married in church in England, hours before the lockdown, with just six of us in the building.

But we can fix our eyes on a bigger banquet and rejoice in the opportunities around us. Covid prompted our rural Anglican church to link with the Catholic church and the independent church in our village, making meals for the needy, providing free food that had previously been throw away by supermarkets, and coming together for an outdoor harvest celebration. Small groups and the youth fellowship continued on Zoom.

The church is now meeting for one socially distant service each Sunday, with no singing. But we continue with a Zoom service, with my wife Sue welcoming those at home, then switching to me in church as I film the service with my smart phone. When the worship music starts, Sue switches off her camera and sings and dances without inhibition. After the service, those on Zoom chat over a coffee. The service is also recorded on Zoom and posted on our website. Including the 90 or so watching the recording, our attendance is higher than ever.

“When people see stability in the middle of storms they’re like, ‘how do I tie off to that, how do I get close to them?’”, Kris Vallotton added. “We are here for a crisis; this is our time”.

Jerry Marshall

Below: 1. Meal delivery team gather at St Mary's; 2. Bringing Hope 
Photos supplied by Jerry Marshall

BORDERS CLOSED

 
The North America countries of the United States of America, Canada and Mexico are very dependent on each other. After a few weeks in March the Canadian/USA/Mexico borders has been opened only to essential travel, including healthcare workers and truck drivers transporting essential goods. This endeavour is to slow down the spread of the Corona virus between the three countries. The border closure is now extended to October 21st, but is thought to be likely until the January 2021.

In the past few weeks as students return to school, and many people are returning to their work spaces, the numbers of corona virus are rising, especially in the bigger cities. In Ontario the provincial government just lowered the gathering maximum to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. They have used the term “unmonitored” gatherings. “Monitored” gathering can remain at 50 indoors or 100 outdoors. Churches are held to 30% of capacity, with 6 foot distancing, and the wearing of masks while indoors.

Many churches are meeting again in their buildings. Our rural churches are taking a cautious approach as most of our members are in the vulnerable age group. We have been hosting our services in several different ways; printed, audio and video. On Sunday morning, we gather on Zoom a half hour before the service and have a social time catching up with one another, then we watch the video version together and then share a bit more after the service.

Rural churches often have internet concerns around capacity, and many of our older folks do not have internet. It is interesting how children or neighbours that do have internet, share the service when they gather in their social bubble. We have found the services are viewed across North America, and by all age groups. God works in mysterious ways. Thanks be to God.

Eric Skillings

IN THE FACE OF GREAT SUFFERING

 
African nations have been an example to others in their response to Covid-19. Unity, good leadership, and co-operation have avoided a total rampaging of the disease throughout the continent. 1.4 million cases, 34,000 deaths, among 1.3 billion people in 54 nations compares well with some individual nations in the forefront of much international news. The leadership of Africa decided early to find an African solution to the problem of the novel coronavirus.  "We are fighting a war, a war that we have to win as a continent. This is the moment for Africa to come together, coordinate and cooperate in order to survive", says Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the African Union's Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Even with the likelihood of under-reporting of cases, the continent's achievement thus far surpasses that of many richer countries.*
 
Yet the suffering across Africa, and in the poorer nations of the world, is immense.  Praise the Lord for the work achieved in Africa's example to the world of leadership and collaboration, but the impact on people's lives and livelihoods is another huge challenge to respond to. Richer nations have increasing numbers of struggling to make ends meet as business and education are curtailed by restrictions and borders closed to international travel and tourism.  How much more for the countries in our IRCA family where life and livelihood were at the edge already for large parts of the population and where there are few government resources to assist. 
 
Distressing news has been received from our IRCA family in Malawi. The economic impact of Covid-19 is very bad, with salaries unpaid, schools closed, and businesses only partially operating and this is happening for people we know personally.
 
Deaths from starvation in many parts of the world will be far outstrip deaths directly from the coronavirus. 
 
UNICEF reports that the number of global under-five deaths had dropped to its lowest point on record in 2019 – down to 5.2 million from 12.5 million in 1990. The concern now is that decades of progress toward elimination preventable child deaths will be reversed.   
 
“The global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to stop us in our tracks,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “When children are denied access to health services because the system is overrun, and when women are afraid to give birth at the hospital for fear of infection, they, too, may become casualties of COVID-19. Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die.”**

I sit in what feels like the most advantaged nation in the world, whose Covid report to the World Health Organisation reads on 12 October: 1,515 cases, 25 deaths, in a population of 4.8 million. We are in the midst of an election campaign, surrounded by arguments about who will best manage our health and economic recovery, the fact being that we will manage.  We have the means to ensure no-one starves and we have the means to keep working to reducing the inequities and injustices that exist even in our blessed land of Aotearoa New Zealand. We just have to choose to do it, for the good of all our citizens.

An island nation, at the far end of the world from everyone else's point of view, we have been readily able to close our borders. Our key challenge in relation to Covid-19 is to maintain effective quarantine at the border.  We have had leadership that has been decisive and as a nation we have been willing to act together as a team.  Covid-19 challenges western world attitudes of individualism.  We have to live as community - for the sake of one another.

Sitting in the midst of this and hearing from friends in other parts of the world, what hits is an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.  So much suffering, what hope is there that we can do anything to help.  The African Union's example is an antidote to these feelings. What is something of a success story within the African continent, and within my own country, stems from the power of solidarity and collaboration.  "We're in it together." The danger for New Zealand is that we focus only on ourselves.  That's the danger for all of us in this IRCA family.  Sharing our news has always been primarily about keeping our eyes open to the lives of one another.  We aim to expand our world beyond our own church, beyond our own country and region. The more we think as one world, the more we let our hearts join with God's heart. 

We're in it together as a whole planet.

So how do we put that into practical effect?

Robyn McPhail

* The New Zealand Herald, 24 September 2020, "Africa shows the way as US virus toll passes 200,000"
** UNICEF Malawi, https://www.unicef.org/malawi/press-releases/covid-19-could-reverse-decades-progress-toward-eliminating-preventable-child-deaths
  

COMING TOGETHER WHILE APART:
Being Church During Covid-19


United Church Rural Ministry Network (UCRMN.ca)
 
Twenty-some participants from across the country gathered to tell stories of challenges and opportunities during this time of the Covid cloud.

After the welcome to participants, worship was presented based on the Transfiguration comment, “Let’s build three booths here”. Donna Mann reflected: it feels good to sit with friends with whom we have prayed and worked as we experience the glory of God.  It is tempting to exercise control when things make us uneasy, but we cannot get stuck in the old, no matter how attractive – our community has changed in these months we have been through.

Then Dr Marvin Anderson led in a process called Rural Café, a group of four sharing responses to questions (which today were on the challenges and opportunities we have experienced).  Stories were told of the steep learning curve of learning to operate technology for worship, study, meetings and fellowship; dislocation coming from not being able to mingle with congregational members (what is a minister without a community?); anxieties over congregational finances; loneliness and fear at not being able to see family; disruption of studies; new ways discovered of doing outreach and being community.

We made two rounds of Rural Café, the first chosen at random from across the country, the second more geographically based to be more with neighbours.

Marvin finished with a reflection on what had been raised through our workshop.  In times of tragedy, he said, we are usually urged to come together to support one another, but this time is different and enforced distance is very unsettling.  The church is about community, looking out for one another, and so our call now is to find ways to help community and mission thrive even with the reality of social distancing.  Perhaps we will learn to see ‘church building’ not as a noun, but as a verb, ‘building church’.

Closing worship was led by Eric and Annette Skillings, challenging us to realize the Kingdom of God is with us.

Thanks to all who came and shared so richly.  A second workshop will be offered if there is demand.

Catherine Christie

Check out United Church Rural Ministry Network to register, or become a member at www.ucrmn.ca

 HAPPIER DAYS (DAZE)

 
With the abrupt shutdown of our Seniors’ Lodge in March 2020, we residents became locked-in (“for our own good”) and it was implied that all our rights to speak out were suspended.

Because of the crisis, we complied for a while.  But as realization came that the threat of Covid-19 could go on … and on … and on … we started to cry foul.  “Little old ladies and little old men have rights too!”  Eventually, since there was an eruption of storm-clouds, management and staff are trying to find ways to start resetting lines of communication – and we residents want to help.

The reality of the situation has taken its toll on all of us over those five months.  Ambulance Driver and Undertaker visitors diminished our spirits.  Then one day it happened – a new resident “moved in” and smiles erupted in one room after another.  Further-more, many of us knew this new arrival to be a happy, competent, local musician whose presence would enrich our lives.

We did have to groan with her because we recognized how the two weeks of quarantine she had to endure were like the labour-pains that accompanies any live-birth!

Happy Days came in other forms as rules became more relaxed, and the interpretations of various groups within the Lodge was made known.

At one time our Lodge was known to be a place where residents shared their suggestions with the management.  But all signs of that practise were withdrawn in March, and the Residents Advisory Council ceased functioning.  Getting re-started has been like trying to prime the old well-pump.  Matter-of-fact it is taking more than one priming … but gradually we start hearing a few gurgles and gulps of promise … accompanied by smiles and good-well expressions along the side-lines.

Appointments for visitors to join us in the Tranquility Garden or in our room (with masks and 6 feet apart) is now more easily arranged.  These visitors are even welcomed on weekends.

And management is starting to think about how “suggestion papers” can be more easily accessed, with pens and pencils in reach, in-front of a suggestion box that is accessible to all residents (including those in wheel-chairs).

Once the pump comes to life, HOPE keeps us going.  Covid-19 may have created pandemonium in the beginning, but many of us believe that the CHAOS can be calmed.  Thanks be to GOD!

Joyce Sasse

From the World Council of Churches

 

BIBLE STUDY ADDRESSES CHURCH IDENTITY IN PANDEMIC

 
Bible study addresses church identity in pandemic

Parishioner sprays disinfectant between the services at Franklin (TN, United States) First United Methodist Church, which has adopted the safety protocols to help prevent the possible spread of COVID-19. Photo: Mike DuBose/UM News

 

Among the massive social dislocations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps none is as plaintive as those to churches.  Around the world, church gatherings, liturgies, fellowship, and service projects have been canceled or postponed or migrated online, precisely when Christian communities and those who rely on them need them most.

In this context, Rev. Dr David Marshall employs the story of Abraham’s call to explore and reaffirm the fundamental shape of church, even during and after this “season of testing.”

“What does it look like for a church community to be blessed by God and to be a blessing to others through this challenging season that is upon us?” he asks.

As the WCC’s programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, Marshall turns to the figure of Abraham, patriarch of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, to sketch the shape of his covenantal exchange with God.

“God made us to live together in the enjoyment of God’s blessing and in the totally connected blessing of loving inter-dependence with each other,” he says. He argues that blessing not only affirms community; it challenges it to a broader inclusion and responsibility, including across religious and social boundaries.

Marshall’s reflection is the latest in a series of WCC-commissioned resources, entitled Healing the World, to explore the spiritual gifts and challenges of the pandemic.

Read the full Rev. Dr David Marshall’s Bible study

Other Bible studies in this series

Read the recent WCC-Vatican statement on interreligious solidarity and “Serving the Wounded World”

FROM THE CHAIR


Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
 
Here in the United States, the creation has been groaning around us.  Fires, not unlike those that ravaged Australia over the past year, have devastated the west coast of the United States. More than 2 million hectares have been destroyed and the fire season is only half over.  For the first time in our history, one fire reached the status of a gigafire, more than 1 million acres consumed and is only 50% contained.  One small Episcopal church building in California escaped fire, but 20% of their members lost their homes. 
Our Atlantic and Gulf coasts have been hammered by an historic number of tropical storms and hurricanes. Iowa, a state in the central United States where I live, was struck by a derecho storm, 30 minutes of hurricane force winds, that destroyed 10,000 acres of corn and devastated two small cities.  33% of the US is in moderate to extreme drought.  We continue to lead the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths and as a nation have not done what we need to reduce case numbers sufficiently before the expected fall surge.  Despite all this, our small town and rural congregations have remained remarkably faithful and resilient.  Most have managed to respond to the present challenges and have sought to be symbols of hope and sources of aid in Jesus Christ for their communities.  They have worked to provide food and shelter for the refugees of these natural disasters while finding new ways to worship safely amidst the pandemic.  We continue to treasure the thoughts and prayers of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world, as we pray for you. 
 
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Mark Yackel-Juleen
Chair, International Rural Churches Association

CRYING AND CRYING OUT DURING COVID-19


Heather Major, who lives in Scotland, considers our need for lament. 

“How long O LORD?! Will you forget me forever?!
How long will you hide your face from me?!
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?!”
 
Does any of this sound familiar?
 
The past several months have been a struggle for the entire world as we faced dramatic changes in our everyday lives.  As I watched the news for months on end, hearing stories about the pandemic alongside stories of political unrest, injustice, humanitarian crises and natural disasters, I was, and still am, struck by an increasing sense of helplessness.  I was overwhelmed by the upheaval and sudden loss of regular relational interaction with other people when the UK went into lockdown in March and I was cut off from my church, working environment and friends.  As I battled with a spiralling descent into anxiety and depression over my financial situation, isolation and loneliness, I cried out to God in lament.  I wept for myself and for those who did not share in the privileges I had of safety, food and a warm and dry house with access to modern technology to keep me connected even as I tried to follow government guidelines on staying home.

 
Challenging our churches

 
In the UK, the response to the pandemic was a nationwide lockdown that pushed many churches into scrambling to get their services online and spending countless hours battling with technology.  Church buildings were closed overnight and communities and church members found themselves at a loss.  In the mad scramble to try and “fix” things, there was little time or space given to simply weeping or sitting in the pain and disorientation.
 
I was part of a conversation in early September with representatives from a variety of rural ministries and churches who were talking about their responses to Covid and government lockdowns.  They talked about the priority of local people and focusing on local communities and individuals, trying to find the gaps and build relationships, but they also talked about the difficulty of chasing a sense of ‘normal’ and forgetting to look at present opportunities in the midst of dreaming about “getting back to normal.”
 
Part of our discussion talked about the importance of lament.  About articulating and naming the realities of our situations and our emotions.  Until we name hurts and pains and griefs, giving voice to them and opening them up instead of hiding them, they fester rather than healing.  One participant mentioned a statistic about the effects of trauma that suggested we would need at least a year, and probably two, to recover emotionally and mentally from the first six months of the worldwide response to the pandemic.  But instead, we were spending all our energy on trying to “fix” things… leading to burnout.
 
In the midst of my personal hurt and pain, I turned to the psalms of lament.  The questions above come straight from Psalm 13 and have been a key part of my life journey since I was 19 and wrestling with the death of a younger cousin.  While I engaged in lament on a personal level and spoke with friends and family, it was missing from many of the services I found online.  There were prayers for God’s healing and provision, but little space for crying out with the words of the psalmists or the prophets: “WHERE ARE YOU GOD?!  Why have you let this happen?!  Don’t you care?!”
 

Lament in the Psalms

 
In 2014, I had the opportunity of studying and writing my Honours dissertation on Psalm 13 as a model of lament.  For many in predominantly white “Western” working or middle class churches, the concept of lament is virtually unknown or unrecognised by church members in their daily lives and faith practices.  Articles have been written about the ‘Costly Loss of Lament’ (Walter Brueggemann, 1986), but little has changed in 35 years in terms of regular corporate or private worship.
 
Services are full of “uplifting” praise and worship songs.  Times of liturgical prayer and confession are regularly followed by praise and a cheerful or reflective sermon designed to encourage or inspire congregants.  People are uncomfortable with airing things like frustration, anger, pain, depression and grief, especially in “Christian” settings.  After all, as long as we believe in God then we do not need to be anxious about anything.  We can paste a smile on our faces and greet people at church with a cheerful “Hi, how are you?” while hiding the ache or emptiness.
 
BUT!
 
The psalms challenge our preconceptions about what is appropriate in how we relate to God and each other.  Although scholars debate the finer points of classification, estimates on the percentage of psalms that should be called ‘lament’ psalms suggest that between one third and a half of the psalms are laments!  If the book of Psalms gives us a guide for worship and expressing our spiritual journey and relationship to God, then maybe we should be considering how much we lament?
 
Laments in the psalms are the brutally honest expression of the psalmists giving voice to their perceptions of reality and their emotions.  They are rooted in the confidence that God is the God of the covenant.  That YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who revealed his personal name to Moses in the wilderness is a God who listens to the cry of his people and intervenes in human history.  That this same God is a wise and just ruler who has the power over life and death.
 
By crying out to God in the middle of overwhelming circumstances, the psalmist is demanding an audience with a personal God who has the power to intervene.  The psalmist’s honesty makes it possible for the psalmist to experience the intimacy and peace of knowing God’s provision.  The psalmist can praise God, not because of a change in their circumstances, but rather, because of God’s character and faithfulness. 
 

What about us?

 
Let’s take another quick look at Psalm 13 in its entirety:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

The psalmist is not pulling punches here.  Life is overwhelming and death seems to be the only option left if God does not respond.
 
And yet, after dumping everything out in front of YHWH, the psalmist seems to take a deep breath before declaring his trust and confidence in God’s love and salvation.  In Hebrew verses 5 & 6 are one verse.  There is no indication in the text about how long this psalm might have taken to write.  We don’t know whether they would have repeated the questions or the demands over and over and over again for months.  We don’t know whether the final declaration was in response to an answer to prayer or an expression of faith and confidence that God would respond, based on the psalmist’s previous experience.
 
What we do know is that this psalm exists and, as such, provides an example for the types of cries we can express during these extraordinary days.  The lament psalms give us a vocabulary to use as we articulate our response to Covid, to natural disasters, to political unrest and corruption, to humanitarian crises, to famine, to war, to systemic oppression and racism… the list is endless.  We can stand, or sit, or kneel, or lie flat on our faces before the Holy God who created each of us and called us to be a witness to his love, salvation and kingdom in the midst of this fallen world.  We can express the full range of our emotions without embarrassment or shame, in full confidence that we are following in the footsteps of generations of believers as we approach the throne of God.
 

Lament and Hope

 
So, as 2020 enters its final months and we continue to face widespread uncertainty and chaos, I would encourage you to take time to lament.  Read through the psalms in their entirety and take comfort in the knowledge that God is more than big enough to handle our very human messiness and emotions. 
 
Pray the psalms.  Write your own.  Share honestly with people you trust.  Invite others to see your hurt and share theirs with you.  Weep with those who are weeping during these days.  Cry for justice for the oppressed.  Seek the face of God.  Take time to ‘be’ in God’s presence rather than rush about madly trying to ‘do’ things.
 
No matter what tomorrow holds, we have confidence in the One who holds tomorrow.
 
Some Resources for Lament

IRCA CONFERENCE 2022

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."   Jeremiah 29:11
 
IRCA Leadership continues to plan towards IRCA 2022 in Dubuque, Iowa, USA, trusting in God's future with hope.  As Jeremiah said, build houses and live in them, we plan a event that will see representatives of rural churches gathering from around the world. The option of ZOOM sits alongside, as a back up and also knowing that there always seem to be difficulties in getting everyone who wants to attend able to be present.

We therefore invite readers to consider your plans for April 2022, tentatively 21-28 April. The intention is to open for registrations in April 2021, so now is a good time to start thinking about what sources of funding can be tapped into in your church or community.
Defensiveness and pride governed power, rather than compassion and commitment to the common good.  That is social sin.
 
Wes Granberg-Michaelson
Copyright © 2020 International Rural Churches Association, All rights reserved.


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