There was not a “Pastoring during a Pandemic 101” class in seminary. Two months ago, I never used the words coronavirus or COVID-19. Two weeks ago, I never heard of social distancing or self-quarantining. Had you told me a week ago, that last Sunday would be the last time I’d eat Donna’s tasty donut in the foreseeable future, I might have rolled into the fetal position shouting, “Why? Oh Why?” If you would have said there’s a toilet paper shortage in America, I would have assumed that one of two things had occurred. Either: 1) teenagers suddenly decided that every youth pastor needed the trees in his/her yard decorated; or 2) everyone in America went on an only White Castle Burger diet.
This is our new reality. What does pastoring a church during a pandemic look like? Here are a few sad observations:
Preaching in a nearly empty sanctuary for a livestream service isn’t as easy as it sounds. I miss having the congregational feedback as I preach. I even miss hearing crickets after a bad joke flops (Have I ever told a good joke?). Now, the whole sermon is like the aftermath of a bad joke.
Caring for the sick and elderly is more difficult. No visitors in the hospitals and nursing homes includes clergy. We can’t pray with folks before they are wheeled into surgery. We can’t visit lonely ones locked up in a facility that in many cases don’t have access to socializing points like Facebook or texting options.
Funerals homes are limiting attendance to 50 mourners with the chairs spread out like they are about to play a dirge version of musical chairs.
I have yet to have a congregant diagnosed with COVID-19, but when (probably not if) that happens, my hands will be tied to calls and messaging. In the moment that I would most want to be by their side, I will be unable to do so.
In other words, in the times when people most need the comfort of the church body, we can’t gather together.
Here are a few good observations from the last few days:
I have a new appreciation for the people I minister alongside. This is new territory for all of us. Our facility crew has been deep cleaning the church (when you return, the church will sparkle). The office staff has been fielding calls and changing plans almost daily. The pastors are creatively thinking of ways to connect with people. Our tech team is working very hard to take our old equipment and make it work for this new day.
I have heard how folks in the congregation are finding ways to help one another. Getting groceries for the elderly. Sharing with others what they have. Talking to their neighbors. Being more prayerful and open about trusting God in the uncertain days. With distractions removed (no sports, school, restaurants, gyms and movie theatres), we are having family dinners again where we can share God’s love and hope with those closest to us.
This scare will end and life will resume back to normal, but when it does I hope we learn a few things. I hope we will continue to help one another. I hope we still look for the lonely ones and get creative in coming alongside of them. I hope we pray just as diligently for Christ’s presence and peace when the world returns to the way it was.
I’ll leave you with these closing words from the Book of Hebrews:
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21