Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we His servants are going to start building.” Nehemiah 2:20

Do you remember where you were on March 8, 2020?

I do. I was with 427 other members and friends of Providence Baptist Church who had gathered in our Sanctuary that morning to worship God— and to honor Randy Ballard on the occasion of his retirement after 23 years of service.

It was a great day. Most of us had probably, by then, heard in the news about something called a “coronavirus” that might be heading our way—and so, with that in mind, I remember offering fist bumps in the Rotunda that morning instead of handshakes and hugs. Then we all went down to the Crouch Fellowship Hall for a crowded reception where we rubbed elbows with some of our favorite people.

If all this seems like it happened a long time ago, that’s because it did. It’s been a whole year, in fact, since we last gathered as a congregation for in-person, indoor worship in our Sanctuary. There will be plenty of occasions this month for reminiscing about the days before phrases like social distancing, and remote learning, and contact tracing became regular parts of our everyday vocabularies.

We’ve learned how to do old things in new ways since last March 8. We’ve also learned how to do a lot of new things—period. Raise your hand if you’d ever Zoom-ed prior to March 8, 2020. We’ve had to be innovative, because innovation has been necessary.

We’ve also had to be patient, because patience has been necessary as well. Though Providence will resume in-person, indoor worship on March 14, the fact that many churches in Charlotte decided to do this long before now has been a source of frustration for some of us. I understand that. The truth, though, is that all of us have had our patience tested during these twelve months apart. We all know what it’s like to wait.

Now, it appears that our long wait is over, and our diaspora (dispersed) days are coming to an end. With more people receiving vaccines each day and warmer weather on the way, we have good reason to be optimistic about what lies before us.

With hopeful spirits, then, let us look ahead together. As the spring progresses, we will gradually regather on Randolph Road to worship, learn, serve, pray, and fellowship with one another. But we need to understand: The church we’ll come back to will not be the same church we left last March. Some members have died. Others have drifted away. A few new members have joined. People now have the option of engaging in worship from their bonus rooms instead of in our Sanctuary. Things will look different when we come back to church.

Bill Wilson, director of the Center for Healthy Churches, estimates that it might take two to three years for churches to settle into a rhythm that resembles a “new normal.” Returning to church will be less like flipping a switch, and more like the beginning of a process. Our Covid-19 Task Force is already testing our plan for safely resuming in-person, indoor worship. Our staff is working on plans for rebooting our ministry programs. Seasoned volunteers will need to get the rust out after a year off. People who’ve never volunteered  to serve at Providence will need to step up. All of us who call Providence home will need to continue giving generously. We will be rebuilding for a while.

That sounds daunting. But it’s not unprecedented. God’s people have rebuilt before, under more difficult circumstances and with more challenges to overcome. We think one year has been tough. The Old Testament book of Nehemiah recounts how God’s people returned to Jerusalem after spending more than seventy years exiled in Babylon. The city they came back to was not the city they left. There was a great deal of rebuilding to do. Many doubted it could be done.

Read the story of Nehemiah. I predict that you’ll hear me refer to it frequently in 2021—and maybe into 2022—so you might as well get familiar with the story. Here’s how it ends: God’s people rebuild Jerusalem.

To get it done, they had to be innovative and they had to be patient. We’ve proven over the last twelve months that we possess these virtues. Rebuilding also required effort, commitment, tenacity, and courage. We’ve seen these qualities in action at Providence before.

Nehemiah and his fellow builders understood, however, that enduring success would come not as a result of their own effort but, rather, as a consequence of God’s blessing. This truth is a consistent message throughout Scripture. So, let us begin now praying for God’s blessing as we look forward to what lies ahead on the other side of this pandemic. It’s getting closer every day.

May the peace of Christ be with you!