What do you remember about the year 2000? Remember when there were some fears that the world would come to a “stop” because all of our computers would stop working? There were many other questions what a new century would bring.

Most of us remember Sept. 11, 2001, now nearing 20 years ago, and how that incident changed much about our lives.

What do you remember from 20 years ago? It may be a surprise to ask it: subtract 20 years from your current age. What were you doing? What did your life look like then, compared to now? I was newly married, no children, serving my first call as a pastor in southwest Virginia; now, my oldest daughter is in college.

What did Waynesboro look like at the time? DuPont had not yet sold the plant that became known as Invista. Genicom had closed its doors recently. Exit 94 off of I-64 and its development was just beginning to gain momentum.

What about the congregation you were or are a member at? What was congregational life like at the time? What was the focus of the church’s ministry and its Mission?

We’ve been starting the process of asking ourselves these questions at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waynesboro. To look back 20 years surprises some people. Was it that long ago?! Some of what Grace was doing in its ministry and mission was different then. Other things appear to remain similar.

Some people remark on ways that the world seems all the more complex; where smart phones and texting were rare and just starting to come on the market 20 years ago, nowadays we receive and share information at a speed unheard of even in the year 2000.

Others do not welcome the complexity of our modern day; one church member recently talked eloquently about how the present sets a person “on edge;” not knowing what to expect, even something as simple as who will be on the phone when it rings: whereas 20 years ago, more often than not, it might be a friend to enjoy conversation with, now, it may be a “spam-call” or a scam artist trying to get your credit card number.

We’ve asked ourselves what we do now at Grace that’s different from 20 years ago. Again, the answers vary. Some things are the same, but many things are different as well.

Some people worry that Sunday attendance is a lower than it was 20 years ago: That the hairs on the heads of members are appearing to be a little greyer, and the number of children and younger families are less than in 2000; that there are many more choices offered for our lives on weekends, on Sundays, during the week. Others talk about what they observe around them: that at Waynesboro High School, for example, there’s a great mix of children, at least 34% children of color, while in our worship services, we are still largely segregated. Or other, hopeful observations: that for many congregations, we’re doing more things together, in service to others, for example. And we’re getting to know each other more, congregation to congregation, and rejoicing in our unity in Christ more than our differences: whether we are talking about denominations, or race, or other ways we are divided.

And what about 20 years from now? In 2040? What will Waynesboro look like? What will our churches look like? What do we hope for? What does God hope for in our congregations, in this community, in this world? These are harder questions, because we do not have a crystal ball. Or more faithfully, we do not know what God has in mind for the world. And yet, even the most apocalyptic vision in the New Testament, the book of Revelation, the Risen Christ speaks of being faithful in sharing the gospel with the world around us in the present, and with hope that the future is in God’s hands.

Scripture says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). The Good News that God offers the world is also the same, and yet it speaks into the world we live in, in as new a way as it did 20 years ago, as it will 20 years from now.

Part of that Good News, we say in our Lutheran tradition, is that every day in our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection there’s something in us that needs to die, and something that God raises up in each of us for the sake of what the world needs from Christ’s Church — the love of God that Jesus first showed us. It takes an awareness of the world around us in order to see Jesus in it, and a willingness to let God’s Spirit lead us to do a new thing in order to be faithful.

To dream what the church or our community will be can be a scary thing if we are confined to the same old thing. But Christ makes all things new! Including our hopes and dreams for the future, that are in God’s hands.

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The Rev. Paul Pingel, pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waynesboro, is a columnist for The News Virginian. His column is published the second Friday of the month.

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