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Timing and Leadership in a Difficult Season

… [Nehemiah] said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” (Nehemiah 2:17)

Dear clergy,

Greetings in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

In this season of constant change, with ever changing government directives and more and more information about the pandemic daily, we rejoice that Jesus is unchanging. His kingdom continues to come, with the hope of the everlasting kingdom ever before us. 

Let me share three concerns for the season of reopening ahead. 

First of all, we are caring for sheep in a world that is constantly changing as this pandemic seems to affect almost everything. I have encouraged you to have plans for the first three stages of reopening tied to the three initial phases from the CDC. The fourth stage will be the first season of the "new normal" which we trust will come once a vaccine has taken the constant threat of COVID-19 away.

In all four stages it will matter that we proceed slowly so that our people will experience stability in our churches all along the way. After talking with a leader who has been coaching churches for over twenty years, I realized that we need to take our phases slowly, even if we seem to be somewhat behind government timing. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you consider staying at least two months in each phase. In any case, do not move faster than your local government’s general directions. 

Such timing will give your people space to adjust to each phase, while giving your leaders time to review carefully the current stage and then prepare appropriately for the next phase. 

While there will be pressures to accelerate, going slowly and carefully will help our church communities to adjust together with less confusion and greater peace. 

Secondly there is increasing evidence that wearing masks does matter, especially in protecting others when it is possible that someone is carrying the disease without knowing it. The fact that White House staff are now being required to wear masks after an outbreak is a symptom of that greater understanding. Masks may therefore be with us for a long time, and I trust you will hold that line. 

Thirdly, there is an increasingly strong case that communal and choral singing increases risk. Those who are singing project the virus aerosol particles much farther than six feet. And singing with masks on is not only hard but can create breathing difficulties for some. For now, I recommend either no singing at all, or having a soloist sing from a great distance, assuming you are in a large space. For more information read Know and Avoid Risk, or watch NATS Webinar Part 2 and NATS Webinar Part 3

I know that such a restriction in singing is will be difficult, and represents just one more loss resulting from the pandemic. Please remember that the loss of regular singing is temporary and please take the longer perspective. 

We will sing together someday, we hope sooner rather than later. But learning patience together is also part of God’s plan for our lives.

 

You may call your deans or me if you have any questions with which we can help.

 

Finally, let me point you to a resource that has been useful to me in thinking about leadership in a time like this. It is called a VUCA assessment (I had not heard of it before). The VUCA assessment applies to situations that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, exactly as the situation in which we find ourselves. The leadership of Nehemiah is an excellent biblical example of such leadership in difficult times. However, the leader’s response to a VUCA world must be Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility (see this chart or visit VUCA: The new reality for more information). In our case, our response must also include prayer.

May the Lord guide and uphold you all. 


In Jesus the Messiah,

+Neil

The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
NLebhar@GulfAtlanticDiocese.org