By Rev. Wanda Duckett
Superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District.
Excerpted from a meditation shared with the Extended Cabinet of the Baltimore-Washington Conference on Feb. 2. Based on reflections from Psalm 91.
In the second month of the year, on the eve of our second quarantined Lent; as we live amid a world of uncertainty and change, we find ourselves feeling consumed with matters of safety. Safety and caution guide our thoughts from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same, and all of our activities in between. We want our churches to be safe, so we embrace virtual worship. We want the risks of social interactions to be few and far between … six-feet far to be exact … so we wear masks and gloves and practice physical distancing and quarantining out of an abundance of caution and safety. We want our children to be safe, so we educate them at home. We want our co-workers and colleagues to be safe, so we do our work virtually, and in most cases, effectively.
For many, Zoom has become not only a tool, but a shelter. Email has become not just a vehicle, but a shield. UPS, FedEx and Amazon have become our means of delivery, but, let us be clear, they are not our means of deliverance!
People of God, as we sit in what Bishop LaTrelle Easterling has framed as liminal space, if we’re honest, we just want somebody to tell us when it’s safe. Our churches are asking, educators are debating, parents are wondering, scientists are researching, everyone is focused on the question of safety. When can we go back to the way things used to be? When can we enter a risk-free environment? When can we gather physically, and physically gather? Well friends, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but pandemic or not, there is no such thing as risk-free Christianity.
With plagues, protests, poverty, politics, policing and finger-pointing all vying for space as the priority of the day, we must be reminded that for people of faith, there is a difference between being safe and playing it safe.
YES! We are wise to practice social distancing. YES! We are wise to wear masks and delay church re-openings. YES! We are wise to keep our bubble small and tight. But in times like these, we can not forget that to be the church, to be the faithful, to be leaders in this present age, it is wise to be safe, but it is impossible to play it safe and be faithful at the same time. These are perilous times, times that try people’s souls. But these are also precisely the kinds of times when those who believe and have a relationship with God must understand and stand. We have to know that the one who keeps us, inside and outside the flimsy bubble wrap of PPPs and PPE is G.O.D.!
This is what we know, this is what the psalmists sang and what we discover when we do some contact tracing between God and God’s people: God is present. God is with us. God offers us protection and a path forward,
- From Moses’ crossing of the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh, to Mary and Joseph’s escape to protect Baby Jesus from Herod,
- From the temptation of Jesus in the dessert, to his false arrest and execution at Calvary,
- From the bloody march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after an Alabama Klansman) to the re-hanging of the Black Lives Matter banner at Asbury in DC,
- From Paul and Silas locked in jail, to the work of Just Neighbors on behalf of encaged immigrant children,
- From Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech at the Lincoln Memorial to Bishop Easterling’s words at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington,
- From the Women’s suffrage movement that culminated in the 1920s to Stacey Abrams’ movement for nonviolent change via the ballot box in 2020,
My friends, the work of the real church -- the work of transformation, redemption, and justice -- has never been easy and it has never been safe. It has always involved doing the hard work. It has always involved speaking truth to dangerous principalities and powers. It has always been countercultural. It has always been risky business to be about God’s business.
Yet, here we are as the people of the Baltimore Washington Conference doing the unprecedented, unexpected, sometimes unappreciated and unpopular work of God’s church; and I pray that our refrain is still “Here we are Lord. … Send us!
- Send us to General Conference to take our church through one of its most pivotal moments ever, one that could altar our witness and identity with respect to human sexuality.
- Send us to comfort mothers who have lost their children to police brutality, senseless violence in our communities, and human trafficking.
- Send us to have courageous conversations about race and stay at the table even when those conversations grieve our spirits and challenge our sensibilities.
- Send us LORD to lead behind the scenes and on the front lines to help our churches stay fiscally, spiritually, and administratively stable until we get to the other side of this wilderness experience.
- And LORD send us to put the pieces back together if and when things as we know them fall apart, so that we can be a part of building something new and exciting in your name.
Lord, here we are. Our work may not be safe, but in order to do it, we must understand that you are our refuge and our fortress. It is in you that we trust as we do this work, which is first of all:
SACRED. This is profound and holy work. We are about God’s work in this season. And whatever we do, let us do it as unto the Lord -- with joy, zeal, grace, compassion, and purpose.
Secondly, this is APOSTOLIC work. We are United Methodists. We embrace the zeal of being a sent people. We understand that the root, the aim, the creeds, and the mission of this organization is not just to be organized, but to be apostolic in the same way as the early followers of Jesus who believed, followed, and endeavored to spread a message of love, and grace, and justice.
Thirdly this is FEARLESS work. For God did not give us the spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) So, we need not be afraid of the terror by night, or the arrow by day, or even the pestilence of COVID-19 with all of its variations and strands that is taking the lives of our families, friends and neighbors. We need not fear what is ahead, nor should we be fearful of leaving what we know behind. As my region-mate in the Baltimore Suburban District often says we move onward, knowing that God is with us in it all, and through it all. It’s okay to be afraid, but let’s show up anyway. Give that fear to God so that over the course of time we fear less, until we become fearless!
And lastly, as we do this work, we do it knowing that it is ETERNAL work. Whether we consider our role spiritual or not, we are part of something larger than ourselves and it is eternal. Lives are in the balance. People’s faith is hanging in the balance. Our witness will be assessed by how it is we walk through these times of change, grief, and uncertainty. History has its eyes on us, but we have to keep our eyes on God.
So, to answer my own question and concern, I don’t know when it’s gonna be safe. None of us do. Perhaps we never go back to what we knew or who we were. But one thing is for certain, two things are for sure: God has given God’s angels charge over us to keep us in ALL of our ways. And nobody who has ever done anything significant for Christ has talked about how easy, or comfortable, or safe it was. But we do read in the Scriptures the testimonies of those who have nevertheless put their trust in GOD. May we be inspired today to do the perilous prophetic work of our time, trusting that our safety is in God, and God alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen!