Relationships. Nebulous and contentious, beautiful and hope-filled. A word as bland as it is challenging. If anything was proven in the fire of 2020, it is that relationships – with their complexity, setbacks and pain – can endure and are solace in the midst of an ever-changing world.

Not surprisingly, relationships are the heart of ministry, the heart of community – from which we simultaneously move out and invite in. As we step into 2021, how do we apply the relationship lessons we have learned in the past year to rekindle hope and set a fire of love in the coming season?

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Initially, in 2020, many of us gained unprecedented time to focus on our relationships – time home with family, meandering talks with friends and untethered walks without destination. Immersed in the now, a new world opened up.

Terrifyingly and with liberty, relationships moved from their cramped corner of planned, structured, and prescriptive time into new depths. Told that it was not safe to be together in the same physical space, togetherness became what we desired most. We grieved the loss of our physical closeness. Longing for connection pushed us to share with authenticity in virtual meetings and phone dates. We met ourselves. And from that place of vulnerability, we encountered each other.

In the midst of isolation that felt so unnatural, welled up the ache to do life with people. Gone was the illusion of self-sufficiency and, for the most part, the desire for it. “I need you,” our hearts seem to say of their own accord.

With our new-found time, many of us had the opportunity to view The Chosen, a new tv series about the life of Jesus Christ. We are not here to promote or critique the show; however, a beautiful gift was how the show put flesh and bones around the sometimes too familiar Gospel stories.

In particular, we see that Jesus was, not for a moment, a lone ranger. He who had more than enough gifts and abilities to operate independently, was surrounded, immersed and grounded in relationship. From the Gospels, we see time and again his cycles of work and rest. Ministering and teaching with his disciples, reaching out to the crowds and drawing in to spend time with loved ones in Capernaum, sneaking away to find rest with his Father.

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As we look toward 2021 with hope – knowing God the Father will be there regardless of what we encounter – to what relationship depths and relational ministry are we called?

Where are our 3 (Peter, James and John – our intimate friends and mission partners), our 12 (the apostles – our fellow disciples who eat with us, grow with us and serve with us) and our 72 (the fellowship of disciples – our smaller church community with whom we are formed, paired and sent out on mission)?

What is the state of our Nazareth and holy family? Those family bonds that so formed and strengthened Jesus in love that he could move out into ministry when called.

The Gospels teach us that Jesus was intentional with his relationships. With his time, he poured into those to whom he was called, took time to receive the love, hospitality and support of his friends and communed with his Father in prayer.

2020 revealed to us our deep need for relationship. In 2021 let us move with ever greater freedom into the relationships, and with the community to which we are called. Leaning into that freedom, we propose the following intentions:
 

To allow unstructured time for encounter. Encounter with God, encounter with others.

To be so open to surprises that we’ll let God plan our day – holding our schedules loosely and our love for others closely.

To, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well, take the time to develop new friendships, seek understanding and graceful acceptance, and risk being uncomfortable for the sake of the beauty that might come.

The Mission Suite is here to accompany your parish as you delve into relationships with mission partners, parishioners, and guests yet to come. Click here to learn how you can advance evangelization and discipleship with our relationship management tools.

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May 2021 be the year of peace, hope and healing for which the world aches, and may beauty and authentic encounter in relationships be at the center.