It’s week seven. I am bringing you a different voice and perspective. This time from that of a religious leader in our community. The closed door is not only her home, but also her church. What has been the impact on her ministry and on her congregation? Although she lives in Santa Rosa with her spouse, her congregation and physical house of worship is in Rohnert Park. In her early 40s, her small congregation includes a significant portion of at-risk individuals by age or underlying medical conditions.
Churches are usually sanctuaries for folks in need. To seek spiritual guidance, safety and comfort for whatever their challenges may be. It is also community for the worship attendees. Many of her congregation were used to working with and through the church to help other community members in need. Now many are isolated from serving and some are in need themselves.
Closing that door was certainly emotional. Trying to figure out how she’d continue her ministry, serve her congregation and keep up with her pastoral duties was challenging. Early on she experienced anxiety and sleepless nights, wrestling with those questions. She knew God is everywhere and it doesn’t take a physical location to have a connection with your God, whoever he or she may be. But how would she put that belief into practice during these times. They are unprecedented and uncertain.
Initially she felt powerless. But she got through those feelings with the help of the Church’s Administration Council, other pastors and ministers, as well as her faith. The council stepped up and worked with her to find ways to keep the church alive and support their congregation. Setting up processes to include new and old means. These included learning to use Zoom for coordination with each other and eventually for conducting Sunday services and other weekly meetings. It also included numerous phone calls and sending cards to folks who were isolated or didn’t have the wherewithal or ability to use video conferencing. It included setting up alternate means online for parishioners to tithe and help keep the church fiscally solvent.
And it’s working. For Easter Services there were 30 participants online. Before and after services, the congregation talks with each other socially. Folks learned to use Zoom for attendance and then taught other family and friends how to use it to stay connected socially. They swapped stories, recipes and helped each other. For example, one participant couldn’t find flour, so another dropped off at the door an extra bag she had. The pastor said that although the technology existed well before this, most of us didn’t use it because we didn’t have to. She was amazed how quickly folks adjusted to using it. Family helped some of their parents but even older parishioners, one over 90 years young, were able to master the technology.
As she and others leaned into this new way of being with each other, for prayer or other relationships, her fears over whether this would work dissipated. She is still busy. She has non-stop Zoom calls about her church and with other pastors and groups she belongs too. And although she had contact by other means prior to this with out-of-state or overseas friends and relatives, she’s found this technology adds another layer of connection to those relationships. It’s also opened additional avenues for her ministry while sheltered in place. For example, when asked to plan a possible memorial service, she was able to suggest using video conference technology so family and friend out of state could also participate.
She had anticipated higher need to support folks with shopping or other personal needs. But with the community pulling together and multiple folks helping each other, she hasn’t gotten many requests for that type of assistance. She looks forward to once again going to a local retirement home to support the residents. And although the frantic first weeks have settled down and her plate is less full; she remains busy. Keeping up with pastoral care, the scriptures, preparing her sermons and her own prayer time now helps her get through her days behind the closed door.
Again, I want to thank her for sharing her story with us. It’s not easy to share your story. However, if you’re interested in sharing your story with me for possible use in the future, you can contact me at email@example.com. Until next week, please be safe and stay healthy.