Churches across the world are working to discover how to express and preserve our community in Christ in a time when various government agencies have asked us to limit contact in order to protect the vulnerable among us.
Rev. Clint Schnekloth is sharing some of the ways that he has made this possible in his congregation.You can view other posts in this series: streaming using Facebook Live, podcasting sermons, and remote Sunday school and Bible study.
Visit the ELCA's Public Health website for updated resources on this rapidly unfolding situation.
The people need their pastor. Also, the people don’t need their pastor. It’s this paradox that will drive this set of recommendations for pastoral visitation in a time of COVID-19.
So, first of all, the people DO NOT need the pastor to visit them and risk bringing an infection. On this point, see Martin Luther:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God” (Luther’s Works, volume 43).
In the 21st century, there are more resources than ever before for congregations to provide for the mutual care and consolation of the saints, and the pastor (and other church leadership like deacons, pastoral care teams, and other staff) can be the resource providers so the congregation can care for each other.
For example, we sent a PDF of our church directory out to the whole congregation and have asked them to text (or call) everyone else on their page once a week to check in on needs during the pandemic. This is a low tech, simple, but effective means of creating distributed networks in the congregation. With regular calls or texts each week, it is likely many types of care will take place and the church leadership will never know. It will just be done gently, quietly, lovingly.
In other words, this as much as any time is a great time to remind the people of God that they are given, by the power of the Holy Spirit, everything needed to be the church for each other. They are a holy priesthood, if you will.
On the other hand, the pastor is an important person with a significant ministry among the people of God in a congregation. During a time of anxiety and fear, the pastor can be a non-anxious, prayerful presence who offers hope, comfort, and the gospel.
Many of the most effective means of doing this during a pandemic are already in the toolkit of most pastors. You already send an email to your congregational list? Send more of them and more frequently. This will accomplish two things, both important at this time. First, it will illustrate to the congregation that you as a pastor or leader are prepared and on top of next steps for congregational ministry, even if all you say is, “We’re in this together. This is new to all of us. We’re learning.” Second, it will offer a simple sense of community. The church cares and is in my inbox.
Next, get out your church directory yourself and start making your way through it, messaging individual households. This can be just a simple check-in, but it’s highly effective.
Third, consider some kind of daily prayer post. Right now permission to livestream or podcast many of our worship materials has been temporarily expanded, so you can even pray or sing the daily prayer offices out loud on a Facebook Live video, or read a lesson and offer a meditation on it, or offer extemporaneous prayers. See the previous blog post about Facebook Live broadcasts and Augsburg Fortress’s expanded permission post for more information.
Also, take a cue from what is happening in Europe right now. Increasingly, people are going out onto their balconies to sing and play instruments. There is great power in music in times such as these. If it is in your repertoire, record music, or invite those in your congregation who do practice the gift of music to do the same. Then get that music out and live on your podcast or on a Facebook Live. (Remember, if you are broadcasting copyrighted material you still need to check licensing parameters.) If you want to join the growing community of musicians who post their music to independent streaming resources, check out Bandcamp or SoundCloud or Last.fm.
Finally, return to the original proposition, that the people don’t need their pastor. You can’t meet everyone’s needs, or even know about all of them. So trust God to provide, and trust God enough to also love and care for yourself and your family. This change of pace can be an opportunity to rest, study, read, and refocus on the main things of life and faith. You don’t have to do it all. We’re in this together.