First off, a little introduction. I am the new pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Pequot Lakes. To be fair, not so new anymore as I’ve been in the area since the end of June.

One of the things that I hear often from my congregation members is how sorry they are that coming to this position at this time has to be so hard. It has become such a common conversation that my automatic answer is, "It’s fine, times are hard for everyone right now."

It’s true, and it may be the one thing that everyone can agree on. In these uncertain COVID times, everyone has faced some hard days.

I can’t even fall back on the “woe is me” card too much, because every pastor I know is in a challenging season. There are a ton of resources for every situation that might occur in the church, but a primer on pastoring in a pandemic isn’t to be found on Amazon (although I am sure that someone is working on one now).

There are churches that are able to worship in-person, some that can only do so online, and some that have not been able to offer any type of worship service at all now that the weather has turned colder. On the outside looking in, it is too easy to play the comparison game.

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We all know someone who is attending church somewhere, in a way that you wish that your church was doing it. It’s hard. We have to remember that every situation is not identical, not equal, and we rarely know the whole story. This is the problem with comparison - we see only the surface, forgetting that success is shared more than struggle.

Last week, I awoke to news that a historic church in New York City had been destroyed by fire. Last month, I learned of a small church in western Minnesota that had worshipped and closed their doors for the last time, as too many older churches have.

It is in these moments that I am so grateful for my own church that, while not open for in-person worship, is still alive and will be here on the other side of the health crisis. If I compare the difficulties of maintaining a sense of community and creating meaningful worship experiences remotely to the death of a church through cycle or crisis, I will take the situation that many of us are in.

There is a verse from Romans 8 that is cited often during times of hardship and struggle. From the Message Bible, “That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times." Paul is speaking of the suffering that all of us endure throughout our lives here on earth. It is not meant to diminish suffering, but to remind us of the glory to come.

Although there is a great deal that is out of our hands, the choice to play the comparison game is ours. I pray that we make wise choices. I pray that this time of struggle may bring us a sense of value, strength and most especially wonder.

We are in the season of Advent. This should be a time of wonder and anticipation for the joy to come!

May we be wary of comparison stealing our joy in a time that it is needed the most.

Be the light! Spread joy!

Jen Matthees is pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Pequot Lakes.