The Rev. Khader Khalilia
We Are Resilient TOGETHER
Over the past two year, this pandemic has caused our sense of human community and churches to radically change. Even before the pandemic there was a trend towards moving our lives online, but in these past two years many of us have basically lived through our screens in ways that we could never have expected. And yet, surprisingly, we have mostly managed to adapt. Facetime with Grandma is not the same as playing with Grandma, yet it is something. Zoom school is not the same as in-person school, yet it is something. And, I was amazed and very inspired and grateful about the way that churches in the Southwest Brooklyn Conference so quickly and successfully adapted to becoming mostly-digital churches. There were even some real benefits – attendance has at many times been higher in digital services than it was in our in-person worship, and the opportunity to attend online opened up the opportunity for members and friends who have moved or were stuck in others states to once again take part in the life of their congregations. Churches managed to continue their outreach and religious activities: from joint online bible study, to joint Sunday school and joint confirmation classes with churches in the conference and even joint worship service. Some churches in our conference are even looking for more intentional collaborative work together.
Some churches in our conference like Good Shepherd, Trinity became a hub of food distribution to people who are in need in our community. Good Shepherd was also utilized as center for vaccine distribution.
That said, there was also a lot of loss. There are the obvious and of course much greater losses in each of our members' lives, that we may have experienced not in community but separate from one another. Losses of loved ones, in some cases, or losses of jobs or financial stability, or simply the stress of managing the instability of our world while doing it mostly alone, and with the churches having limited ability to support. All of that is a loss that we should acknowledge at this time.
Yet, I do think that we are reaching a turning point. With things starting to open up, we can see the fire of hope growing brighter on the horizon. We cannot just go back to things exactly as they were. Grasslands burn once a year so that they can grow back anew. But fire always grows from another source of fire. We should use this opportunity as a time for rebirth and a new direction, even though our starting point and energy will always start from our shared past. I think this is something that all the churches in our conference are willing to embrace, and I’m excited to see where it leads us in the year ahead.
We Are Hopeful TOGETHER
As we look to 2021and beyond, as conference, we are filled with a lot of excitement and hope. We all probably long to have some of our normal things back –– but we should acknowledge and embrace that things will also be different. Things will be different but we will move forward as churches together. I am grateful that our bishop and synod have been accompanying us on this journey and have been meeting with congregations to help them discern their future for the sake of the gospel.
Here are some highlights:
- St. Jacobi Lutheran Church celebrated their 130th anniversary
- Pastor Juan Carlos was installed as the Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
- Pastor Paul Knudson celebrated his 35 ordination anniversary
- Pastor Gary Mills retired in January
- Redeemer-St. John’s, Our Saviour’s, and Salam have started the process of discerning the possibility of shared ministry
- A month before COVID started, our Conference hosted an ecumenical and Interfaith Community Forum on Immigration attended by nearly 100 members of the community. The event, which was translated into Spanish, Arabic and Chinese, featured guest speaker, Mary Campbell of AMMPARO, among others. It included workshops, which generated some good feedback on the prospect of a collaborative faith network by way of an 'Immigrant Welcome Center' in Bay Ridge –– an initiative that it is hoped will help connect immigrant communities to existing resources and services. This momentum was used by Good Shepherd to reach out to some of these communities about the COVID-19 vaccine when they began offering it.
God's Work. Our Hands, TOGETHER
The churches in our conference are working together and with people in the community for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus. The churches in our conference opened their doors to serve the needs of our community: from opening our schools and following the CDC guidelines, to providing food assistance and counseling, to working with the 68th precinct to educate police officers about different immigrant communities by building bridges of understanding.