There are many churches without leadership. The downward slant has been steady but slow, so slow we look back and wonder when it began. Yes, COVID-19 played a massive part in enabling drastic changes. Almost overnight, staff had to learn new ways of ministering, being available and ensuring that office hours were published in the weekly bulletin. People now needed more attention, more notice, and more communication. And if they couldn’t find a path through the maze, they gave up and became a name on the drop-out list.
In the meantime, the active church focused on anything from assisting staff to spreading a warm blanket of love and understanding around the parishioners. Some found ways to show care in the sanctuary and the home. Stewards focused on financial matters. Elders quickly invited people to join pastoral relations teams. Caring for money and the people were foremost on their agenda. Plans for starting something new in churches were often subtly laid aside to concentrate on relational opportunities.
We live in a world with protests, wars upon wars, broken families, health staff burn-out, safety issues in the classroom, increasing homelessness and many more likeminded situations. It seems one way to help people count their blessings is to offer tried and tested faith stories in the church and on the street.
On a Sunday morning, after a very tense week in the village, I asked the congregation if they still prayed this old prayer, and I slowly began: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. His love to guard me through the night and wake me in the morning’s light. Amen.”
They caught on before I finished the first sentence. Some prayed a different third line, and I heard both lines being softly echoed across the congregation. Eyes wide open, tears on their cheeks, smiles on their faces, some showing their hands in a prayerful poise. Drawing people together in the moment and sharing love overcomes anxiety. This reminds me of William H. Willimon’s book Worship Is Pastoral Care mentioned in our recent workshop.
“Ordained ministers and lay leaders experienced notably different challenges during the pandemic era. Social isolation affected both groups, but pastors, ministers and chaplains felt more overwhelmed by ministry conditions that exhausted their energy and focus. Lay leaders, for their part, felt a loss of connections and of meaningful involvement in their faith communities. All leaders, however, deeply grieved the magnitude of the losses.” (Eileen R. Campbell-Reed, Presbyterian Politics and Grief).