By Rev. Sandy Nenadal, Assistant to the Bishop
It’s moving season in the United Methodist Church. This summer United Methodist pastors in Missouri have been moving to new locations, preparing to begin ministry with new congregations. Last year at this time, I was unpacking boxes at my new home in Columbia.
One of the items I unpacked and placed in my kitchen is an old white enamel cooking pot. My mother used it to make turkey soup among other things. That enamel pot brings back memories for me of times spent in the kitchen with my mother. It also reminds me of the ability of familiar objects to help us see things in new ways.
I discovered this insight reading Sue Bender’s book Everyday Sacred. In the book, Bender describes a meeting with an artist named Gale. In Gale’s house, Sue noticed a number of drawings of an old white enamel pot. She asked Gale to tell her about them.
As a professor of art, Gale taught a course called “The 100 Drawings Project.” She assigned the students to draw one simple, familiar object 100 times. One year Gale decided to participate in the project. She chose to draw an old white enamel pot. After creating four black-and-white drawings, Gale still had 96 more to draw. She realized unless she found different ways to see the pot, she would not complete the project.
So, Gale began experimenting by placing the pot in different settings. Because the surface of the pot acted like a mirror, it took on the qualities of its surroundings.
Gale photographed the enamel pot in places with different lighting. One night she set the pot on the driveway by the car. She discovered the brake lights turned the pot red, and the hazard lights turned it yellow. Setting the pot near a beige stone wall, the pot reflected the color. It even reflected lights hung near the water’s edge of an ocean-side community.
Gale’s experience made Sue reflect on the potential an ordinary object has to inspire creativity and new sight. If Gale could find 100 ways to see an old enamel pot, what would it be like for us to look in a similar manner at other parts of our lives? In a sense, you could say the global pandemic has done just that by pushing us as persons and congregations to discover new ways to make Christ’s love visible.
Before the pandemic, we may have found ourselves resistant to change. Too often in our congregations, we become set in the ways we do things, whether it is worship, Christian discipleship or missions. Yet as the pandemic forced us to look at our old routines with fresh eyes, congregations discovered creative ways to carry out ministry. If you have read The Missouri Methodists, you have seen stories about some of these congregations. You can also find them at www.moumethodist.org/covid-19-stories.
One congregation opened its fellowship hall as a vaccination clinic. Some churches developed drive-by food programs for the community. Another church opened its building for a socially distanced learning center. One imaginative congregation created a socially distanced ice cream social, taking ice cream to neighborhoods in town. When one community’s ambulance service crew needed more space to stay and remain socially distanced, a church offered their building.
These stories and other videos are available on the Conference website, if you are looking for inspiration for ways to respond to the changing circumstances created by the pandemic.
My old enamel cooking pot reminds me that we can always find new ways to look at old programs, ministries or ideas because God is continually doing new things among us. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke to the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon. It was a time of terrible dislocation and grief.
They had lost all the institutions they had placed their hopes in, including the land, their king, the temple and the traditions that guided their lives. They felt hopeless. God sent word through Isaiah that they should stop looking back to the past. It was time to look forward. Out of the pain of exile, God was planning on doing something new and so surprising it would feel like a second exodus.
“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:18-19.)
God created new life in many churches throughout this last challenging year. Our congregations responded to old needs, in new ways, such as offering meaningful online worship. Others found creative ways to serve newly emerging needs like making cloth masks for their communities. Even as we face so many unanswered questions about the future, I believe God continues to challenge us to look for the new thing God will bring out of the disruption of this time. Scripture shows us that is how God works.
During the exodus, the Israelites felt trapped at the Red Sea until God parted the waters. Encountering a funeral procession, Jesus restored a widow’s only son to life. Three days after the crucifixion, the disciples were in hiding. Then God sent Mary Magdalene running with news that Jesus was alive.
This month as you walk through your home or church, look at the things in each room. Do any of them challenge you to ask how you can see your service to God or your ministry in a new way? Stay alert for the new vision, new insights or new ways God may be inviting you to embrace and ask what your next step into that new future will be.