Grace Notes and Possibilities: Between Shells

Lobsters grow, but their shells don’t. I’m sure I learned this in 10th grade biology, but I learned it again years later at a marine museum on the Gulf coast where our family was vacationing with the kids. While we were there I received a call from my superintendent notifying me that I would be moving to a new appointment in June. The news came as a complete surprise, as is often the case in itinerant ministry. The next day we visited the museum. As I stood before the glass display case featuring the shell of a lobster, my mind was swirling with thoughts of what moving would mean to me, my family, my church relationships, my routines, etc. I read a plaque explaining that lobsters can only grow by splitting their own shells, crawling out of them, and growing a new one sized to fit their larger exoskeleton. The parallels became immediately obvious: we grow when we move; we grow when we change; we grow when we accept an unsettling event, leaning into it, rising to our full height. And I certainly did grow with that move—as did our family, the church I left, and the church to which I was newly appointed. God was present amidst the disruption of that transition, and a change that was unwelcome all around ended up bearing gifts all around.

COVID-19 has forced us to move out of our protective shells—pried us loose from our routines, our patterns, our customs, our assumptions; our programs, our practices, our priorities, and certainly our personal preferences. All that is left for us, exposed as we are, is to grow new shells sized to fit a new reality. In the case of our congregation, the specific day-to-day, week-to-week implications of that consequence continue to unfold. Conversations during our Grace Notes and Possibilities process identified some of those implications; among them, the anticipation that worship, small groups, committee meetings, and other church-related gatherings would very likely become, by and large, hybrid in-person/distance events for the foreseeable future.

While enormous in its scope and impact, this shift has a precedent in the biblical story. The Israelites, displaced through exile from the Jerusalem temple, organized synagogues in their communities of displacement, and in radically altered formats continued to practice ritual gatherings; and God was perceived to be present there. Once the temple was accessible again, temple worship resumed . . . synagogue worship continued. Displacement followed by a hybrid in-person/distance model of communal gatherings is a story we already know. Perhaps this can be a source of assurance for us as we face an unknown set of challenges in the coming months. God continued to be real for those attending both temple and synagogue; and God will continue to be real for us, together and apart.

To embrace rather than resist necessity can be a means by which necessity becomes opportunity. My hope and prayer for Laurel Heights in the weeks and months ahead—and I ask you to share it with me—is that by the goodness of God change unwelcome all around may end up bearing gifts all around. May it be so.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Paul L. Escamilla, Senior Pastor