Pandemic Pastor

We’re pretty much a month into the covid19 pandemic ‘lock down’. So much on the ministry scene has changed in that time, and a new temporary norm is emerging for us here: daily live stream prayer gatherings at midday and in time for compline; two live stream community prayer events on Sundays; Zoom coffee mornings and a book club; DVD production to reach those without internet; a plethora of emails, phone calls and messages via social media to replace face to face; online social gatherings; conversations with friends about faith which maybe seemed daunting at one time; distribution of love gifts to those in need of some support or encouragement…and I could go on. Quite extraordinary – so many things it would normally take a church a long time to countenance, now having taken place in the short period of a month. Hard to see how things will ever be quite the same, although not all of the positives are likely to last beyond this.

There has been so much to scramble to get in place, but as the new norm settles in during this period, thoughts are inevitably turning to the longer term lessons. In my mind (when it’s functioning anything like normal), all the reading, study and exploration of many years into new forms of church and engaging with lots of missional ideas are at the forefront. I basically wrote a whole Master of Arts programme around new forms of Christian community, inspired by monastic rhythm, liquid church, and the missional movement. I’ve seen this stuff in my missional dreams, and now it’s real.

What is missing on much of the wider scene, though, is significant missiological reflection. It is interesting to see how people’s models of church express themselves in these days – everything from clergy performing ‘normal services’ on videos in empty churches, to very different forms of online gathering…and, of course, churches (and some parts of congregations) for whom the internet is an alien or unwelcome concept.

My over-riding principle this far is to establish and support community. Much of this won’t be a long term thing, and with the level of trouble out there in the world, there’s an important strengthening work to be done. But as time moves on, we’re increasingly reflecting both on what this time says about mission and discipleship, and about what lessons we will take out of lock down with us. The church is experiencing, possibly like never before, what it means to be uniquely joined around a vital task of being church in an entirely new setting with all that brings: culture shock; fatigue; reflection; longing for a return to the old; adaptation; grief over all sorts of change; deepening pastoral concern; and, in many places, an appetite for ‘new’ and a solid example of what the seemingly challenging teaching of recent months might look like in reality.

Having said all that, none of this is without its strains. I’m keeping myself at home pretty much continually as someone with underlying health conditions that wouldn’t be in my favour if I were to catch coronavirus. So, whilst the ‘day job’ gives cause for reflection, there’s nothing like a pestilence to facilitate existential crisis. There have been some darker moments of fear and concern, not only for me but for those I love. I’ve lost some friends to this, and others are very sick. There are various bits of life that are arising needing some thought and reflection moving forward.

But in it all…sheer grace. God has been so good and kind, and he has been and is my stay in spite of it all. I’m deeply humbled and grateful that what ministry I can offer from home is helping an supporting not only our congregation, but wider. I missed the ‘Pastoring in a Pandemic’ module at bible college and ministry training school, but we’re all learning to write the module!

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