The realities of racial, economic and gender injustice exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic only began to fade from consciousness a year later, according to researcher Eileen Campbell-Reed.
In the first two years of the coronavirus outbreak, the Baptist theologian and author interviewed and interviewed more than 100 ministers and lay leaders on topics including stress and self-care during lockdown, parenting and pastoral life in times of crisis and partisan navigation divisions over vaccines, mask wearing and returning to in-person rallies.
The first round of research found that many secular and ordained leaders had been sensitized to the systemic nature and severity of racial and economic injustice by widespread police brutality and subsequent uprisings in 2020, it said. she stated. “White leaders were activated by what they were listening to, and they were telling their congregations about it.”
But that focus and intensity has since started to fade, she said. “In 2021, we interviewed a different group of pastors and lay leaders, and we heard much less about the multiple pandemics we lived with. It is a call to us that we must continue to pay attention to our role and our privilege in the world.
Campbell-Reed used a September 1 webinar to explain those results and discuss the full report now available from month 22 qualitative study of lay leaders and pastors from more than 20 denominational affiliations which she led with Christian Scharen, vice president for research at Auburn Seminary in New York.
During the webinar, Campbell-Reed was joined by Baptist, Disciple of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian ministers whose experiences illustrate aspects of the 28-page report. Good Faith Media CEO Mitch Randall moderated the session.
She summarizes the issues in a pastoral letter included in the report“Over the past two plus years, change in the church has accelerated. All the usual challenges of living together in a faith community have been magnified and complicated by the COVID-19 measures and multiple pandemics revealed this season. Grief and loss are widespread and the emotional consequences are profound. The direct loss of over a million lives is just the tip of the iceberg. We need healing and new future stories.
One of the key changes identified in the research is that the church is living in a new era, she said during the webinar. “We have entered a new era of ministry…and that means a new era for the church.”
Part of that is due to the high number of deaths, job losses and cancellations of traditional patterns of worship and fellowship that affected many congregations during the early stages of the pandemic, she said. . “We lost so much during this time. It’s at all levels.
Hybrid Worship and Resilience
The new era ushered in by COVID-19 will include a permanent venue for online gatherings and constant adaptations of technology, she added. “Hybrid worship is going nowhere. The smaller small churches are still broadcasting live and having virtual worship. This means that pastors and all worship leaders must be prepared to lead in a hybrid environment, and that takes a lot more skill.
In fact, churches must be prepared to operate in a world defined by a continued state of crisis, including from future pandemics and the threats of climate change, she advised. “We must continue to adapt the way we live in this world and learn to be present with each other in times of crisis.”
But through it all, many pastors and lay leaders have shown resilience during the pandemic, the report says.
“Pastors spent a lot of time improvising their ministry tasks in unexpected ways. But they were certainly not the only ones. First, lay leaders volunteered their time and technical skills to move church meetings and worship online and to expand the capabilities of social media and websites to accommodate the new virtual communities.
Conflict and community
Congregational conflict is another pandemic-related trend uncovered in research, often marked by disagreements over masks, vaccines, and how and when to return to in-person fellowship.
But Campbell-Reed said these disputes usually mask deeper discord over the health and trajectory of congregations: “The level of conflict was not just about politics encroaching on churches from the outside, but about their own cycle of natural life and the cycle of decline where many found themselves multiple times long before the pandemic.
These findings should be a signal for clergy and lay leaders to focus on the existential challenges facing their communities, she said. “Conflicts look like one thing, but often they’re about this life cycle of the church, and we need the ability to step back and watch what’s going on.”
This allows congregations to live through dark and difficult times, the report adds.
“Like all organizations, churches have a natural life cycle. Congregations begin with a particular time, history, and place. And when they are healthy enough, they grow and peak (often five to ten times the size of their original gathering), then plateau and eventually decline, which is inevitable. However, at the point of decline, renewal and revitalization are possible.
Sexism alive and well
The pandemic has also proven that “sexism is alive and well” in churches, as some of the women interviewed quit their jobs at churches that did not recognize the challenges of homeschooling and ministry, Campbell said. -Reed.
“These women all have children at home. They were all full-time ministers. And they just had to get away from it to try to bring stability to their families,” she said. “Women have borne the brunt of home schooling and family care. But parenthood in general — for men, for women, for non-binary people — is still something churches don’t give enough consideration to. The churches need to reconsider this.
Panelist Sarah McClelland-Brown, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Warner Robins, Georgia, said she had to leave a church during the pandemic because she did not recognize the special dangers the pandemic posed to her in as a pregnant woman.
“I quit when they asked me to go back to preaching in person” and eventually found a church “more open to everyone’s safety,” she said.
More spiritual practice
The study also revealed increased recognition of pastoral ministry as a spiritual practice during the pandemic, Campbell-Reed said. Working from home has given pastors and lay leaders the opportunity to see beyond the administrative, attendance and giving issues that often dominate their roles.
“We had times when we were locked up at home that gave us a chance to see what it’s like to be less pressured by what capitalism and consumerism are doing to our lives. We saw the value of spiritual well-being without so many other noisy things happening around us, and we were awakened to this sense of ministry.
But the study also found that what was true in 2020 was less so in 2021, she added. “As things have gotten loud and busy and crazy again, it’s easy to lose that idea. We want to retain the spiritual nature of what we do.
Opinions on personal care
The importance of self-care is another key area of the study, which revealed how ordained and lay leaders view the subject differently.
“Clergy who responded to the survey indicated that the primary ways they attend to spiritual well-being are through prayer, practicing spiritual disciplines, and paying attention to their physical health,” the report explains. . “Specific spiritual practices were mentioned less often by lay leaders. For non-professional leaders, time spent with family, friends and colleagues was mentioned most often as an important form of self-care. …While both groups identified attention to health as an important way to meet self-care needs, pastors cited it far more often than lay leaders.
But there were instances where pastors could not recognize their own needs or methods of self-care in critical situations.
Webinar participant Timothy Peoples, senior minister at Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, North Carolina, said he neglected self-care during the pandemic until he “got a depression” that urged church members to act on his behalf.
“They said, ‘You’re doing too much. Take a week. I was grateful for the leadership,” he said. “It started a huge business. Now I see my therapist and spiritual director once a month because it’s important to me. If I am here to be a healthy caretaker for my congregation, I must also do healthy things.
When asked to identify the types of support they found most helpful, pastors in the survey identified more rest or sleep, time away from ministry, and more space for grief as the main elements.
If the ministry’s experience in the pandemic has taught leaders what to expect constant change, the report says.
“Even though some situations remain stable, many other important aspects of life and work no longer function in expected or understandable ways. Not only has the world changed, but our ability to navigate it is not immediately clear. We are in a new era of ministry, and we need to move our bodies and organize our relationships and bring our communities together in different and more complex ways.