Though Christmas isn’t here yet, we’re not that many weeks away so I’m risking a Christmas example to start! I suspect most families have Christmas traditions – things that they have always done, every year, and sometimes can’t even remember why they started! We certainly do, or did.

Our three daughters all received a small stocking of bits and pieces before breakfast on Christmas morning, and the remainder of their presents when we arrived back from church. Only a couple of years ago, once they had all left home, we decided that this tradition could go. We were initially met with outrage! How could we possibly rip up an annual ritual just like that? However, after a brief period of thought, they soon came around to the necessity and practicality of moving on and now are instead creating new traditions in their own homes.

I suspect we are all in some way reluctant to stop the familiar, the comfortable, and the appreciated parts of our lives that over the years have meant a lot to us. It’s that sense of continuity and permanence that has felt under threat in so many ways since the start of the Covid pandemic and the challenge of the Presbytery Mission Planning process.

I was ordained and inducted in between Covid lockdowns so, for me, everything about integrating into the life of a new church family was different. All of the activities and the people were fresh to me, so perhaps this gave me an objective perspective when, inevitably, activities started to return. We asked many questions about what to restart, what to change, what to discontinue and here’s what I learned:

  • First, we sat down as a Kirk Session, reviewed vision and listened to the voices highlighting need in the community. We then tried to respond, giving everyone the opportunity, if they wished, to put some things down and take on a new challenge. It was then with that context that we considered the things we should stop and the things we should continue.
  • When there was uncertainty about what to do with a longstanding group or activity, giving things a try, making everyone aware that there would be a review period and that, if the results were not what we’d hoped then we would make the decision to cease, allowed for a period of acceptance that it was time to do something different.
  • Where an established group wanted to continue, before simply going back to how things had been before, we talked together and sometimes found different ways to organise things as some of the participants’ situations had changed. For example, keeping a bible study on Zoom was wise as some of those who had previously attended were now housebound.
  • Where we looked at an alternative way of doing things, like establishing a pastoral care team to relieve the impossible task for one person, we made sure that the idea was explained, explained and explained again, before beginning it!

In all this, PRAYER individually and corporately and COMMUNICATION – on paper in the magazine, by email, on social media, by word of mouth – was key. Though not perfect all the time, on the whole folks have adjusted to new or alternative ways of doing some things e.g. reading the words from a screen rather than hymnbooks. Also, not everything has changed.

Doing things differently is set to continue as we move on through the planning process. Perhaps what we’ve learned post-Covid will help us when, as a larger united church family, we again need to look at what continues, what doesn’t and what we can rework.

Like the Jerusalem Council in Acts, as they made major decisions about the way forward for the new Christian communities, may we be able, with prayer and communication, to respond to God’s call, valuing our old traditions but having the courage to create new ones too.

Rev Chris Hay, Arbroath