One of the few bright spots about being a pastor during this social-distancing reality is that I have the opportunity to see my colleagues’ work. Certainly, many congregations (including mine) have been creating web content for years, but now, with such an emphasis on online worship, and quite a bit more time at home, I find that pastors (myself included) are more eager to check out each others’ youtube videos and websites.
There’s a real upside to this. For too long, we have worked in silos. This time of crisis has forced us to innovate. And as we are learning new ways of doing things, we can continue to be inspired by one another.
There’s a downside, though, too. Now that our work is online for public viewing, it is also online for personal comparison. When we set our videos and sermons side-by-side to those of our colleagues, there is inevitably critique of the varying quality. And we begin to question ourselves:
Am I putting out enough content? Because I see that other pastors are creating daily devotional videos.
Why is it that my church website looks like it was made in Dos Shell? Meanwhile, my colleague’s website has interactive content…
Why doesn’t the online worship serve that I recorded on my cell phone look like live-streamed video from megachurch down the street?
Why am I finding it so difficult to preach to a camera? That other pastor made a sermon video with their cat sitting in as the congregation, and it was both inspiring and funny!!
I’ve read or heard a variation of all of these comments from other pastors in recent days. I’ve thought or said many of these things myself (cat comment excluded). It is perhaps a bit predictable. We who profess that each human being is inherently, and unchangeably, of sacred worth, so easily succumb to the most invasive temptation of our social media age: We continuously compare our work to others, and then we assess our own value by comparison. And when we do so, we often come up lacking.
Feeling my own inadequacy, I was comforted this week by words from Rabbi Susan Fendrich. As the Jewish community prepares for Passover this week, she shared a post on her Facebook page entitled “You are allowed to have a sh’vach Seder”. Sh’vach is a Yiddish word that can be defined as “pathetic” or “unremarkable”. The rabbi writes:
You do not need to set up a multi-media, multi-layered presentation on Zoom… You do not need to do all the cool things that people are suggesting for small seders... You do not need to compile an “in these times”-themed haggadah or seder supplement... Light the candles. Bless the wine/grape juice and the holiday. Eat the symbols. Be together... You do not need to make up for the seder you are not having, or the seder you wish you could have.
Rabbi Fendrich’s words could be for any pastor, or any Christian. As we enter into Holy Week, we may be burdened with our own unrealistic expectations. It’s okay, though, if our Holy Week celebration is not as elaborate as it has been in previous years. It’s also okay if our colleagues create better-scripted or more professionally produced sermons or liturgies. These were never the things that made the week holy, anyway.
For Christians, the “holy” of Holy Week is the story of our faith. Most of the people in the story are anxious and afraid. They live under the global threat of the Roman Empire. Their leadership fails, and they are looking for the one who can save them. And, as the story goes, Jesus reminds them to serve one another. Jesus implores them to care for the poor and question injustice. Jesus gives of himself fully, and tells them to do likewise. And at the end of the week, they are deeply grieved. They are weary and exhausted, which, coincidentally, is another way to define s’vach.
There has never been a week when this story is more relevant. Perhaps, all we need to do this Holy Week is tell the story, to ourselves and to others, in whatever way and by whatever means we can. Because, those of us who are feeling s’vach, are in good company; both in our present time and throughout history. And we should not lose heart, because it is usually among s’vach people that God does a new thing; whether it is the parting of a sea, or the raising of the dead.