On January 28, CBFVA held its annual Pastors’ School. The speaker, Dr. Anna Robbins, and the theme, Recalibrating Faith & Culture in a Post-Pandemic World, were both especially timely and helpful. Dr. Robbins skillfully mixed scholarly thought with practical information in a way that directly addressed one of the most pressing cultural issues currently facing the church – nostalgia. Whether it’s found in the slogans of politicians or found in popular tv shows like Cobra Kai and WandaVision, American culture is currently awash in a time of nostalgia. It appears to be everywhere, including the church. The pandemic has made people fearful of an unknown future, so they find comfort in remembering and longing for a known past. Many churches are longing for a return to what they consider the “good, old days” themselves. Nostalgia has an intoxicating aroma, but it can be dangerous because it can keep us from fulfilling our mission as people of God. Interestingly enough, Dr. Robbins actually rooted nostalgia in religious language. She called the passion for nostalgia a longing for God. And the prescription to overcome this intoxicating aroma is to lean forward. She reminded us of Scripture’s both present and future orientation. God is doing Kingdom work around us now, and it will one day come to completion. Consequently, as people of God, we must look forward and not backward; we must journey on rather than standing still; we must wander into the unknown confident that God is leading us and already ahead of us rather than remaining where we’re comfortable. And finally, she reminded us that with God’s guidance and leading, with the work that God is doing and will do, we have so much to look forward to.
As I sit in my home office reflecting on the past several days, Pastors’ School 2021 comes immediately to mind. The experience was rich, and my reflection prompts two questions: Did we fulfill CBFVA Coordinating Council’s objective to help prepare Virginia pastors for what is coming next? Did we give pastors tools to navigate this incredible time of earth-shaking re-formation? Emphatically, I can say, “Yes!” to both questions.
Dr. Anna Robbins, President of Acadia Divinity College and Dean of Theology of Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, guided us to consider Recalibrating Faith & Culture in a Post-Pandemic World. Her prophetic words were hard to digest at times, but, to her credit and our benefit, Dr. Robbins did not hold back. We need to hear truth-telling if the church is to release control of patterned ways of being and doing church in order to form new practices required for the future.
Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Robbins vividly described what happened in our culture and why churches are struggling. At some level we know these things, but Dr. Robbins’ unpacking of three words helped us understand today’s malaise. Participants seemed to resonate with the word malaise and associated terms that inform it:
· Dystopia (disconnection because of endless depressing news)
· Inertia (our world is filled with distractions), and
· Nostalgia (sentimentality for the past—the “good old days”).
Finally, I really appreciated Dr. Robbins’ word of hope offered at the end of the plenary session. She said, “The future is held by God, the church can lean forward and become a harbinger of hope (even though the future is unknown), we can live in light of God’s future, and we can harness passion for God.” Out of necessity, the post-pandemic church is going to look and feel different. We were challenged to rediscover God’s mission for the church, release our need to control, then serve God’s mission. I hope you agree that is what we are here for.
My thanks to ministers across the state who participated in this year’s Pastors’ School. I appreciated your willingness to journey with us and engage in the afternoon discussion. I’m grateful to Dr. Megan Strollo, our Theologian-in-Residence, who helped guide fruitful question and response in the afternoon.
If you missed Pastors’ School in real time, you can still benefit from the extremely meaningful experience. Sessions were recorded and are posted on CBFVA’s YouTube channel. Check them out!