Planning for the “new normal”

Dear colleagues,

A couple of weeks ago, I happened across this article in the New York Times: “Notes Toward Reinventing the American Orchestra.” I know little about orchestras and even less about the mechanics of the business, but I read on anyway.

The article is about what orchestras need to do to adapt to a post-covid world. Here’s the second paragraph:

Yet simply a return to normalcy in the music world will not do. The closures of concert halls and opera houses have revealed how fragile the economic support system for classical music actually is. Freelance artists have lost most of their work. Major institutions have been grappling not just with survival, but also with questions of mission, relevance and inclusion, issues that became even more acute when nationwide demonstrations for racial justice broke out last year.

It struck me that if you changed references to “music world” to “church” and “concert halls and opera houses” to “church buildings,” the paragraph would lose none of its force. Just like orchestras, churches looking to the post covid world are also dealing “not just [of] survival, but also with questions of mission, relevance and inclusion.”

If you’re interested, or know more about orchestras than I do, I encourage you to read the whole article—replacing orchestra with church and seeing if the questions this author asks might equally apply to the church. Here’s one: “Why can’t orchestras be nimble and respond to sudden inspiration, or current events?”

For the last few months, it’s been possible to start talking credibly about a post-covid world. That means it’s time for churches to start talking seriously about our place in a post-covid world. We need to take stock of how we’ve changed during the pandemic and what changes we want to keep. We need to look around at our world, see the ways it has changed, and ask what the task of gospel proclamation looks like in this emerging “new normal.” What awaits Christians is, I think, a hopeful and generative process but not an unchallenging one and certainly not an untransformative one.

As we begin to inch towards this conversation in the church, it may be worth remembering that we are not alone. Orchestras are having the conversation. So are museums, social service organizations, the news industry, and so much more. There’s a possibility here for a society-wide conversation about how we restructure our inherited institutions to be of greatest service in the world we now live in. Wouldn’t it be great for churches to be right in the midst of that vital conversation?

Faithfully yours,

This message was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.

An image used to illustrate this post is by Pedro Sánchez – Own work, CC BY 2.5.