Even with dire warnings about what the next few months of the pandemic will bring and new restrictions in place around the US, it is hard not to feel some hope when watching the video of Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old woman from Coventry (UK), as she became the first person to receive a COVID vaccine outside of clinical trials.

Inspired by Margaret Keenan, in this week’s Weekly, we look ahead. Specifically, we look ahead to what Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes calls a “season of hope.” We begin with her essay from Faith & Leadership titled “What is possible?”. Sarai Rice helps us name what we have learned about congregations during the pandemic — lessons that we will carry with us into the next normal whenever we finally get there. We also return to the archive to reread Allison Backous Troy’s beautiful reflection about cultivating hope in love in a time of fear. As we inch closer to the next season, we cannot leave behind the hope we’ve known in this one. We finish with a profile of one of the new books in the Alban catalog, “Surprised by God: Teaching Reflection through the Parables.”

Welcome to the Weekly. 

What's possible? Out of a season of hardship into a season of hope

Out of a season of hardship into a season of hope

A New York pastor advocates for congregational leaders to look again for possibilities as we enter a new year liturgically and approach the new year on the calendar.

Resources for leaders during the pandemic

What congregations can learn from the pandemic

In our desire to get back to “normal,” there is a real danger that congregations will not name what they’ve learned about themselves during the pandemic. Sarai Rice names several lessons we shouldn’t miss.

Resources for Advent and Christmas

Cultivating hope in love despite fear

As we live in shadow, may we find ways to adorn and anoint and bless the new world in which we live, dark as it is. May we find new ways to save what is beautiful — not in empty hope, but, as Kenyon says, “in love despite fear.” – Allison Backous Troy

Cultivating hope in love despite fear

When I first read Allison Backous Troy’s essay inspired by Orthodox Easter in April, it overwhelmed me. Reading it again, it still does.

From the Alban Library

Surprised by God: Teaching Reflection through the Parables

by Christina R. Zaker

Surprised by God: Teaching Reflection through the Parables

“Our God is a God of surprises… Am I open to the God of surprises?”—Pope Francis, 2014

Responding to this challenge, Surprised by God explores what it means to reflect on life and our journey of faith. Theological reflection has been primarily used in academic training for ministry preparation, but it is an essential tool for any person pondering Pope Francis’ question.

Christina Zaker provides an in-depth look at the foundational elements of theological reflection including definitions and guidance through various methods. Offering a lens for reflection based on the unique way Jesus’ parables surprise and invite listeners to collaborate in the reign of God, the book foregrounds the importance of reflection as a spiritual practice committed to justice.

Reveling in the many ways God surprises us, we learn how to respond to the invitation of faith with open minds and hearts.

Before you go…

It was in my first leadership development course that I learned about the Stockdale paradox. You remember it? Admiral James Stockdale, the former prisoner of war during the war in Vietnam, was asked the difference between those POWs who made it out and those who didn’t. He said, famously, that those who didn’t make it were the people who were defeated by their own optimism because that optimism denied the horrors they were experiencing. The POWs who made it embraced the paradox of facing the reality of their situation without losing hope. Thus was born the Stockdale paradox: face the brutal facts but never abandon hope.

This year, every congregational leader has learned what it means to live this paradox at a deeper level than most of us have known before. Many of us have buried beloved church members or our own loved ones. Some of us have been ill ourselves. Some of us have marched for justice, while almost all of us have closed our buildings. We have faced the ire of our members for both. Some of us have questioned our vocations and our callings. Some of us have wondered how much longer we can last in this work. These are the brutal facts we face.

Now, as we move toward the end of 2020, we move ever more closely toward hope — not as idealistic escapism — but because the Apostle Paul is right. Even in the most brutal of circumstances, hope does not disappoint. It can’t.

We’ll see you here next week. 

Nathan Kirkpatrick

Managing Director, Alban at Duke Divinity

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