What can a congregation do when a pandemic, a political crisis, and a racial reckoning come knocking at the same time? We were already overwhelmed by a ten-month long pandemic and growing polarization. Then last summer’s nationwide protests against racialized state violence forced many white citizens to begin to come to terms with our country’s 400-year legacy of racial injustice. On January 6, a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, threatening revenge against those they believed had betrayed them. Three major crises at once pose unprecedented challenges for congregational leaders.
I used to run laps—now I am more apt to walk. Either way, I find that if I can muster the will power to begin, I can almost always finish the first lap. But if the loop is too short for a full run, I’m faced with a decision: should I quit or start my second lap? Lap number two is where adrenaline leaves off and perseverance gets its test. As we move out of 2020 into 2021, clergy and lay leaders face the challenge of rekindling energy for a year of new and different challenges.
“My gut tells me underlying motives are at work here that are not being shared!” In the past month, I have heard several variations on this statement in online gatherings. Mistrust has become more prevalent and is giving birth to interpersonal conflict—in a time when we have less personal resilience to cope with it. We need to take greater care when we attribute motives for another’s actions in this precarious season.
The coronavirus is horrifying, and sometimes it feels that congregations are not doing their best to meet the challenge. But there are signs that God is at work, helping us to learn and to transform ourselves.
Speaking with clergy around the country during the pandemic, I have heard a universal sense of loss over the dramatically diminished number of personal interactions with members, staff, and the community. Pastors, ministers, rabbis, and priests today are suffering—they are relationship experts at a time when it is challenging to put that expertise to work.
Two conversations I have had with clergy recently led me to ponder some of the undercurrents of doing ministry during this pandemic and the upheaval and uncertainty we are now swimming in. I was reminded of how important it can be to show up for each other.
“Growth in membership is the primary indicator of congregational health and vitality.” The pandemic is challenging this and other longstanding assumptions about engagement, belonging, and membership. We must carefully examine all of our assumptions—otherwise, we risk creating barriers to belonging for people trying to engage with us in new ways.