The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel and the preferred route for much of international shipping. It was completed in 1914 under the administration of the United States. But construction first began under the auspices of France, which abandoned the project after eight long years of frustration and futility.
Historian David McCullough has observed that America’s success was due largely to its capacity to improvise and adapt. French engineers had been long accustomed to doing things in prescribed ways, and their methods proved too rigid to adjust to the unique challenges of the terrain. By the time it became obvious that a series of locks was preferable to a sea-level waterway, investors grew weary and the venture was called off.
Like those canal builders, the church now works in new and unfamiliar territory. The coronavirus pandemic has altered and complicated congregational life in ways we could never have imagined. I am too poor a prophet to tell you when we will exit this situation or what the church will look like when we do. Many believe that religious institutions will be permanently changed, an outlook likely to be proved correct. Meanwhile, it’s up to us to ensure those changes will be constructive.
Right now, most of us would like nothing more than to go back to “life as it used to be.” A better prayer may be that God will help us to learn, improvise, and adapt. Scripture and experience remind us that the stress of change can be the beginning of opportunity. Our faithful Lord can teach us to do new things, and how to do accustomed things in ways suitable for the times. May that become our worthy ambition and hope.