|Greetings beloved community, and happy Easter! When we read this blog post from clergy and congregation consultant Laura Stephens-Reed, her words resonated with us– and we wanted to share her perspective with you. Laura’s mission is “helping clergy and congregations navigate transitions with faithfulness and curiosity.” This post can be found on her blog, here.
We are holding you in our prayers, and we thank you for holding us in your prayers too.
This could be the hardest period of the pandemic for pastors
By Laura Stephens-Reed, written 3/18/2021I still tear up every time I read about Facebook friends receiving round 1 or 2 of the Covid vaccine, the photos of their faces reflecting a whole range of emotions: relief, utter joy, regret that people they’ve lost didn’t live to see the vaccine rollout. It feels like we’re collectively turning a corner, especially as vaccine availability ramps up. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
And yet, this very good news has a shadow side for pastors. Our churches are increasingly made up of the fully-vaccinated, since those who are currently eligible to receive shots are disproportionately represented in most mainline congregations. Those folks are saying, “Woo-hoo! I’m vaccinated. Let’s throw the church doors open.” It’s an understandable impulse after a year of no hugs and unchanging surroundings, but it’s not without issues:
In many states clergy are not yet included in the ranks of those who can sign up for vaccine appointments. Unless your pastor is eligible by virtue of inclusion in a different qualified category, your minister does not yet know when to anticipate inoculation. It can make a clergyperson feel like a hired hand rather than an integral part of the faith community when church members say, “It’s safe for us,” with the implication that that’s the only consideration.
The vaccination of some populations is still an indefinite number of months away. Shots for children, for example, are still more promise than reality. What do we do with that knowledge as a congregation? How do we balance the needs and hopes of those who feel safe coming inside the building with those who do not? What are our deeply-held values as a church, and how are they being lived out (or not) through the decisions we’re making about re-opening? It often falls to your pastor to ask these essential but complex questions.
There’s a lot of pressure associated with Easter. That’s always true, but it’s even more the case this year. Easter is a catharsis after the sometimes painful introspection of Lent. Nobody got their Easter blowout in 2020, and in some ways it feels like Lent 2020 never ended. With vaccines coming online right now, many church folks are clamoring to be in church for that long-delayed sigh of relief and subsequent celebration. That’s not a lot of time for your leadership to put all the necessary precautions in place and communicate those to all who might want to attend.
There are bigger unresolved questions about the shape of ministry, and by extension, the pastor’s job description. Your pastor has learned how to lead worship and Bible study, provide pastoral care, and carry out other key tasks from a distance. And here’s the thing – even when we’ve reached herd immunity, some of those virtual tasks will still be important. People who would never walk through the church doors have found spiritual support through online worship and interaction. Members who are homebound or who don’t drive at night have found new ways to engage with their congregation. This means that your pastor is in danger of having to do everything twice over, when ministers already (both now and in pre-pandemic times) feel stretched too thin.
Pastors are so very, very tired. Your pastor has worked extremely hard this year to care for you, help you stay connected with others, and bring church ministries to you in innovative ways. Beyond the complicated logistics of ministering while distanced, clergy have had to make public health decisions – something no minister signed up for – in a climate that has politicized mask-wearing and staying at home. As a result physical, mental, and emotional fatigue has set in, making all of the above issues that much more daunting.
All of these realities are contributing to high anxiety for clergy right now. Church folks, you can both help your pastor right now and pave the way for your congregation’s effective post-pandemic ministry by asking questions in informal interactions, meetings, and group gatherings:
There are upsides and downsides to every situation. With curiosity and reflection, though, we can lean into the former in ways that propel us closer to what is possible in partnership with God.