Today’s post by Seth Hedman over at First Things is an interesting take on post-pandemic church culture (which also puts it in line with this piece by Ephraim Radner from the spring of 2020). In the post, Hedman challenges churches to make make two broad shifts: from white collar to blue collar and from pandemic church to post-pandemic church.
It’s an interesting blend of thought, really. Hedman cites his time in carpentry and DoorDash driving as a way of realizing how “white collar” the church has become. In many ways, he’s not wrong, particularly in those who are most prolific in writing and in being read in certain circles. And his observation lines up with suggestions that the rise in the “nones” has a lot to do with economic and vocational factors as such as anything else.
Hedman gives three suggestions for what “the real work of the church” should look like moving out of the pandemic. First, ministers should revisit the work of “the Daily Office.” This isn’t something familiar for most Baptists from my background, but it has entered my experience over the last decade. The Daily Office is rooted in the ancient practices of “prayer hours,” when religious figures would stop regularly for prayer. “Every morning and evening,” Hedman asserts, “the work of God should be [the pastors and churches’] primary daily responsibility, through public prayer and reading Scripture. No more event planning and screen time. No more closed church buildings during the week.” In particular, that last part resonates with me. I’ve never really had a “neighborhood church” experience as such, but I do not that having a place to “rest” in a particular way was an unfortunate consequence of church closures during Covidtide. “Sacred space” is hard to come by.
Second, Hedman suggests a popping of the “ministry bubble.” This is where the author brings in more of the “blue collar” perspective. He suggests churches make a priority of hiring pastors with blue-collar working experience and that seminaries should have requirements for students to do manual labor. Why? Hedman adds: “Too often, pastors who have only known the ‘ministry bubble’ have little vision for discipleship in the working world. A pastor disciplined in the mixed life of prayer and work will better be able to minister to his working congregants and invite them to ‘follow me as I follow Christ.'” That’s a gutsy final sentiment, taken right from the letters of Paul. The general suggestion is well-taken: regardless of the color of your collar, how great it would be for your pastor to step into the world of your own work to better understand his sheep.
Finally, Hedman suggests a “sacramental revival.” He mentions things like communion, baptism, kneeling for confession. Then there’s the the removal of screens and the idea of no longer “catering” to an online audience (though still streaming if necessary). This is where a lot of church are, I imagine, as there are still senior adults or families who have yet to return in-person. Hedman suggests making the service more embodied, more physical and less digital.
It’s a piece worth reading and reflecting on, if only because it can help us reflect on our current condition in necessary terms. I’d like to hear more about the “blue collar appeal” of things. What he suggests can sound more “high church” than “low church,” which is something most of us aren’t really equipped for. Either way, these are some things that church leadership should be thinking about, should be talking to their congregants about, especially as we move into “whatever is next.”