adjective, “Intensely irritated and frustrated”.

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the LORD. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. (Psalm 77:1-3, NLT).

On this 1 year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, I am borrowing this word that fits my spirit’s locale. Borrowing it, I say because in the past few days six, count em, six friends have used the word on social media. I am exasperated by the many and ever growing number of ways life has been hijacked by this dreadful scourge. Reflecting on the death of 520,000 of our fellow citizens, it seems really selfish to feel what I do, that I want my life back again, with all its lovely rhythms and relationships. How about you?

I’m okay! I really am! I’m just exasperated. I feel it, and I’m feeling your exasperation too. Fuses are short. Patience quotas are in deficit. Exhaustion is everywhere. Relationships are becoming frayed because of different opinions about all sorts of issues. Front and center when it comes to Church are discernments about how and when we can get back to gathering again. Questions come rapid fire. When? How? Where? Why? Why Not?

It’s been fascinating to note the disparity of decisions, actions, and behaviors that churches in America have taken. To over-simplify, many have been gathering for worship and community for months now, and many others have only been doing so virtually. Our discernment and decision has been more the latter than the former. Since our outdoor worship was done in by the weather the end of October, we have been live-streaming our worship and limiting our small group gatherings to zoom. We are hoping that the weather will allow us to gather outside again on Easter Sunday, April 4, to feel once again the energy and excitement of celebrating together. If that happens, it will have been five months of distance, and in the words of George Harrison, “It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.” Exasperating.

But here comes the sun! And the spring, and life’s hopeful but much too slow return. Vaccinations are ramping up, positivity and death rates are declining, and we’re moving toward herd immunity.

We have begun, along with our worship leaders, to welcome ten worshipers and small groups back into our beloved sanctuary space. Surprisingly, or maybe not, sign-ups and participation have been sparse, reflecting on-going concerns for safety and desires for bigger gatherings. I believe you may safely join us, and I hope you soon will. That number is soon to increase again. I hope you will join us when you feel it’s safe.

A number of you with longing have noted that friends of yours have been going to worship at their church for months, and that we should now be doing the same. Others of you have shared with no less longing for corporate worship that we must continue to follow the distant pattern that keeps us from becoming a community of sickness and death. We all are exasperated and have our opinions about these issues. And that’s as it should be, and comes for all of us from a place of longing and love to sit and stand and sing and pray and fellowship together every week.

My plea for us is for continued patience, love for, and understanding of one another, with the clear and common sense that we will get there together, though not as quickly as any one of us would like. My plea is for grace to abound along with prayers as church leadership faces a constant barrage of decisions that must be made that have never had to be thought through before. And my invitation is that we hold one another in our common experience of exasperation, instead of letting that exasperation drive us apart.

Soon we’ll be able to take our masks off and sing for the joy of being together again, and God’s faithfulness to see us through will be marked another time. If you’re a hugger, you’ll have at it. And because we’re not there quite yet, we keep wearing our masks and move forward slowly. It’s exasperating.

Peter Hawkinson

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