What have you done with it? Well, perhaps you didn’t notice you had it. We’re talking about that precious commodity: time. We all only have 168 hours a week, and we’re told a lot of us spend a major proportion of it sleeping! But for a large segment of the working population another huge use of our time has been spent travelling to and from work: commuting time. But over the past year, the pandemic changed that. “WFH” crept into texting language. Work from home became a reality for many more people. For some it has been welcome, as it provided more flexibility. For some it added untold additional mental stress, as it came with extra home duties, including perhaps being an unpaid teacher of sorts. How that has changed our valuation of those noble folk who follow a calling to be full-time teachers! Much more could be said about such related aspects.
Here, we just want to focus on how for many people the cessation of a need to spend time commuting has introduced new possibilities. As the world entered into the period of the pandemic, economists feared that there would be enormous global economic recession. Some industry sectors have indeed been very harshly affected, especially those related to entertainment and non-essential retail trades. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, in other sectors productivity has in fact improved. Part of the reason is that workers have turned commute time into work time. Some businesses may also have been able to cut costs associated with accommodating workers in office buildings, but it is the time issue we’re thinking about. This is where we find an extension of Parkinson’s Law: as we have more time available, we find more work to fill it!
Before our minds go off on an unproductive tangent, let’s just refocus and remember this is a church website, and we are looking for spiritual opportunities. 1 How much time did you formerly spend going to and from meetings of your church? In many large cities and towns, church congregations have tended to move further and further away from their initial centre, as property prices and the needs for good education and other family priorities led people to relocate some distance away from the church’s building. The venue for meeting didn’t move as the people moved, so the result was a commuting church. For some, that meant (pre-pandemic) the time actually spent meeting with the church was only half of the commute time! Also, for workday meetings, those in families often had to leave youngsters at home to do school homework, so numbers attending church meetings mid-week inevitably were lower. Video-conferencing has changed all that! It has given us back the opportunity to be at the church meeting without paying for it in commuting time, and it has enabled far more people to attend. Of course it is not the same attending by video-link as it is when we can shake hands, and even enjoy a coffee together after our spiritual priorities have been met. But have we invested the commute time profitably?
More to the point perhaps, what have we learned from the experience, and how are we hoping to ensure benefits are not lost as the world bounces back? 2 Will we just bounce backwards with them, or can we see how to “bounce forward”. Now we know better than ever how important it is to be close to people, will we go back to getting in our cars to do that, or will we refocus more locally? Will we look for opportunities to be close enough to fellow church goers so that a long commute can be avoided? Will our Christian testimony among near neighbours result in others being drawn to share our faith as they get to know us better from more frequent local contact and our greater contribution to local community activity? Will we continue to find strengthening through online prayer times, that are better informed as we see one another more frequently and understand needs better? Or will we just contribute to more carbon dioxide emissions until we can afford a new electric-powered car?
We are at an inflection point, a pivot point. It is easy to simply resume where we left off pre-pandemic and recommence the commuting church experience. For some of us that might be the only, or even the best, solution. For others, fresh fields of opportunity could lie ahead. The old picture of the man trying to keep a foot on the boat and another on the dock illustrates the difficulty of a pivot point. Perhaps we can almost hear the command of the Master: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” 3. Let us consider our direction prayerfully, with attention to the Master’s instruction book and roadmap.