As I sit down to write this column, it’s summer and I’ve just returned from a refreshing weekend in Algonquin Park, Ont., with my wife, Brenda, where we camped, canoed and fished. It was quiet and relaxing, which gave me a chance to reflect and look ahead to the coming autumn season. I think we’re all keen to move on and consider new opportunities for life and living after the past year and a half. However, I invite you to pause for a moment, because perspective is important, and there are many lessons to be learned from the pandemic. Let me share a few personal insights.

First, I don’t want to return to the same way of living and working that we did 18 months ago. I celebrate the fact that society quickly adapted and learned that many of us can work efficiently and effectively, remotely. We discovered that people don’t need to be in the office five days a week, nine hours a day, to accomplish great things. We demonstrated that we have the technology, ability and creativity to respond rapidly to new ministry opportunities in corps and social mission. This is encouraging for all who enjoy a strong work-life balance.

The world today is a different place than it was before the pandemic. COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill. International travel ceased, borders closed, stay-at-home orders were issued, and work, education and congregational life all went digital. Life is different, and different is OK, because this period has given us an opportunity for deep contemplation and learning. Life as we knew it has been disturbed, and that’s not a bad thing.

In North America, we experienced a period of social and cultural tension and upheaval not seen since the 1960s. The response to the tragic death of George Floyd was swift and immediate, with people from around the world joining the cause for justice and equality. Closer to home, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians were horrified by the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and by further graves across the country. These discoveries are heartbreaking and tragic. As we mourn the lives lost, we need to listen quietly and walk gently so that understanding and healing may begin. We also need to build relationships and foster tolerance, while working to eliminate discrimination and prejudice. May the legacy of these children be significant and everlasting.

With lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the pandemic also provided a significant pause in the busyness of life. As a result, many turned their attention to these important issues, and this is a good thing, because there is no place in Canadian society for racism or hate. Indeed, we need to build on the philosophy of equity, diversity and inclusion in our movement, because it will strengthen our ministry with those we are called to serve as a church and social mission organization.

Thankfully, our cities are starting to come back to life. However, life will be different moving forward. As communities, we’ve learned to pause and consider others in new ways, as demonstrated by people’s willingness to wear masks and stand in orderly lines for hours to be vaccinated. Let’s carry the lessons of patience and kindness forward. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to strengthen relationships with our family and friends virtually. Where possible, grow those important relationships face-to-face, invest your time in those you love, because life and living in community is precious.

As I look ahead to colourful, crisp autumn days, I cherish the chance to connect with family and friends in person. I look forward to meeting with colleagues over coffee to share ideas at our favourite café, all while balancing a new hybrid model of working from home and office. I anticipate celebrating with my church community and sharing in special events, enrolments, dedications and weddings, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas programs, which we almost took for granted before the pandemic.

The pandemic has given me the opportunity to consider what is important to me, and while there have been moments of grief and challenge, this period of life has allowed for a deepening of my devotional life and been an occasion for personal growth. In moments of questioning and doubt, I have been reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” While the journey has been challenging, it has been important and necessary. I look forward to the days ahead with a renewed commitment to listen, learn and grow—personally and missionally.

Lt-Colonel John P. Murray is the territorial secretary for communications and chair of the Board of Trustees at The Salvation Army’s Booth University College in Winnipeg.

Photo: Maridav/

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