The members of Small Churches, Big Impact Collective are not uniform and none of us enter Holy Week with the same resources. Whether you have an administrator creating bulletins this week or if you are drafting them yourself, whether you are preaching every day of Holy Week or only on Easter morning, I know you are exhausted. You’ve carried your church through a pandemic, made impossible decisions about in-person worship, mask wearing, and seating arrangements. You’ve done things that no seminary class could have prepared you to do in ministry. It’s a lot, and I know too many small church leaders who are questioning their calls.
And now it’s Holy Week. For many of us, this is our first Holy Week inside our church building in three years. Do we remember how do do this? I, for one, have no idea where the pitcher might be hiding for for our use tonight. I don’t know how many bulletins to print for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday because our church membership has changed so much since we last held these services in person. I don’t know how I’ll write my Easter sermon when I still feel very much immersed in Lent.
And it’s okay.
So often it feels like clergy carry all the weight of our small churches, but it’s just not true. It’s not up to us to spend this sacred time stressing over how we might preach the events of Holy Week in inspiring and creative ways. Our liturgies are profoundly beautiful, even when they are stripped of fancy flourishes you might find in larger churches. Our scripture tells the story in the way it needs to be told. And our Holy Spirit shows up to stir people’s hearts in ways we cannot even imagine.
One of the strengths of small churches is the intimate way we know our members. We know who to call when we can’t find the pitcher or can’t get the bulletins to print correctly. We know who can step in as a reader when the person scheduled now has the flu and who can help plan a funeral during Holy Week when the priest is overwhelmed. This is literally been my Holy Week so far, but rather than feeling like the weight on my back increased with each stressor, I instead felt lighter. I was reminded how faithful our people are. How much they love our church and Jesus Christ.
I spent much of my first Holy Week at St. Stephen’s lamenting all that was missing. The Tenebrae service on Wednesday. The freshly baked communion bread on Maundy Thursday. The intricate choral arrangements on Good Friday. So much of what fed me in program sized churches didn’t exist at this small church. And then Easter came and as I looked out at the congregation I wholeheartedly understood though St. Stephen’s might not be fancy, St. Stephen’s is most assuredly faithful.
I wonder how you have felt the Holy Spirit move through your ministry this week? In what ways is your Holy Week experience different than it has been in larger contexts, but equally as sacred? We’d love to celebrate small moments that have made big impacts this week, while also making space to hold those moments that didn’t go as you had hoped. Let us know in our Small Churches Big Impact Facebook group or on the SCBI Facebook page.
As you enter this Holy Triduum, know that you are not alone. SCBI is with you, but more importantly God is with you.
May you feel this divine peace surrounding you.
Allison Sandlin Liles