It has now been three years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Do you remember where you were when you first heard about COVID-19? Do you recall the first meeting or event that was cancelled in response to the pandemic? What emotions did you experience during the month of March 2020? What losses have you experienced as a result of the pandemic?
As we continue to grieve the losses of the pandemic, I am reminded that grieving is a long-term process and that recalling, retelling, and remembering are activities that help us grieve.
As we reflect, it is also important to surface our learnings. What lessons have you learned from the pandemic?
Some of the learnings of the pandemic that I have received include:
- Congregations learned that they could pivot and quickly provide online worship, discipleship, and giving opportunities.
- It is more difficult to an old thing in a new way than it is to do a new thing in a new way.
- Community ministry is an essential part of a congregation’s overall mission.
- We can heal the earth, even if temporarily.
- The pandemic further exposed economic injustices. Essential workers, including grocery workers, restaurant workers, delivery drivers, and warehouse workers are at the lower end of the economic ladder.
- Minorities disproportionately serve on the front lines of a pandemic. African-Americans comprise 30% of the nurses and Hispanic persons comprise over 50% of the agricultural workforce.
- Historic racial injustices continued during the pandemic. One-third of the people hospitalized during the pandemic were black compared to eighteen percent of the population.
During the past year, our task force on “Interpreting the Impact of COVID-19 on Congregations” has been studying the effects of the pandemic across our denomination. Three of their key findings include:
- Things got simpler during the pandemic, and while they were no doubt challenging for local church leaders and pastors, what was truly important rose to the surface.
- Relationships/fellowship was a common theme and a perceived loss throughout the pandemic.
- Pastors and church leaders felt unequipped to navigate the challenges of social media and online worship. Seminaries, Bible colleges and regional bodies need to be sensitive to these needs as they consider future training opportunities.
- Pastors became more ‘pastoral’ in the outworking of their call with administration and program/process taking a backseat.
- Hybrid worship seems to be here to stay, now the question is how do you pastor these blended congregations at a time when many congregations are moving to a bi-vocational/part-time ministry model due to financial pressures.
- The pandemic exacerbated/ magnified the challenges that were already present in local congregations.
- Unfortunately, the responses seem to indicate that many churches and pastoral leaders are resistant to making the deep changes needed to assure a vibrant future.
Dr. C. Jeff Woods
American Baptist Churches USA