Shepherding After a Shut-Down
Over a year after COVID-19 changed everything, life is beginning to return to normal for much of the world. We can travel, hug our grandparents, and our churches are reopening.
The pandemic changed us all in some way or another, but how has it changed the Church? What did it teach the ones who teach us – our clergy? How do you shepherd when your sheep are sheltering-in-place? A few rectors from our diocese share some thoughts and lessons from the past year, as well as how they are moving their congregations forward.
What was the hardest thing about the pandemic for you? For your congregation?
“For me personally, the hardest part of ministry during the pandemic was constantly needing to make decisions that our leadership team is not necessarily qualified to make. As a non-medical person myself, pandemic-related decisions were extremely hard. And no matter what decision was made, large or small, there was inevitable disagreement and criticism. The constant disagreement on protocols, etc. was extremely draining. For the congregation, the lack of personal connections was very painful.” – The Rev. Michael Guernsey, Holy Cross Cathedral, Loganville, GA
“No handshakes and hugs.” – Deacon Fred Ellrich, Mission Pickwick, Counce, TN
“For me, the most difficult thing about the pandemic was twofold. 1) I felt the loss of community and a sense of isolation. I struggled with what “facts” to believe and the polarization of opinions. It made for some pretty challenging leadership decisions. 2) It was difficult to adjust to the ministerial restrictions we had to work under —not being allowed into hospitals and nursing homes to visit the sick for instance was particularly tough. I really hated to see people so fearful of other people, seeing them are virus sources rather than fellow humans made in the Imago Dei.” – The Rev. Chris Findley, St. Patrick’s Anglican Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
“I think the hardest part was that there was no blueprint for what to do. Nobody had been through a pandemic before, so we couldn’t learn from past experiences. It often felt like we had multiple choices when it came to decisions and every one of them was wrong, at least in some people’s eyes. For the congregation, I think the hardest part was not being able to gather and have in-person fellowship as we have done in the past. It left many of them feeling disconnected.” – The Rev. Eric Zolner, All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO
What is a good thing that has come out of the pandemic? Either for you personally, for your church, or in general.
“A mantra around here during this pandemic has been, “Never waste a good crisis.” We’ve been forced to rethink and reimagine ministries, and that has been great for us.” – The Rev. Michael Guernsey, Holy Cross Cathedral, Loganville, GA
“We established a weekly Zoom communion service with pre-consecrated sacraments. Attendance has been steady for over a year. No end in sight.” – Deacon Fred Ellrich, Mission Pickwick, Counce, TN
“I think we appreciate community more. People are so grateful to be together in worship and fellowship. When people walk through a hardship like this, there’s a sense in which they are strengthened. They’ve discovered something important about the faithfulness of God and had an opportunity to evaluate their own discipleship. During the most active time of the pandemic, we held a daily Eucharist, praying for mercy and lifting up our community and nation in prayer. So, for the parish, I really think it deepened our sense of dependence on God.” – The Rev. Chris Findley, St. Patrick’s Anglican Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
“A good thing is that we were forced to upgrade our technology at the church. We now have gigabit Internet speeds and a super fancy new video streaming system, so our reach has increased significantly.” – The Rev. Eric Zolner, All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO
How did your congregation make you proud in 2020? This can be a specific moment, or just in general.
“The staff here has been fantastic—learning new skills, doing ministry creatively, and seamlessly transitioning from indoor to online to outdoor to multiplied indoor services. Members of the congregation have jumped into ministry in new ways, and a new core group has begun to emerge.” – The Rev. Michael Guernsey, Holy Cross Cathedral, Loganville, GA
“I challenged them to almsgiving during lent and we donated $1,000 to a local charity for abused and neglected children.” – Deacon Fred Ellrich, Mission Pickwick, Counce, TN
“I am so proud of our parish’s resilience and desire to be faithful. While they wanted to be safe, they never allowed fear to lead the way. They really pulled together and even when there was disagreement, they never let it break the bonds of community in Christ. They continued to give and to worship together (either online or in-person) as they were comfortable doing so.” – The Rev. Chris Findley, St. Patrick’s Anglican Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
“Our city had a mask mandate and we felt as a Vestry that we needed to abide by it. There were some people who refused to come to church if they had to wear a mask and others who left to go to another church that did not require masks, but we never had anyone on a Sunday morning refuse to abide by the mask mandate, even if they didn’t agree with it. So it was great to see people who didn’t like it but also felt that worshipping together was more important than personal comfort.” – The Rev. Eric Zolner, All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO
What are your hopes for the next year? What are you most excited about regaining/being able to do again?
“I’m excited to see the church move into more intentional engagement with the community outside our walls. The pandemic has made it easy to think just about ourselves and “getting through it,” but we have also been longing to better engage in our community when so much had to stop over the past year.” – The Rev. Michael Guernsey, Holy Cross Cathedral, Loganville, GA
“We are back to hosting our face-to-face monthly communion service and fellowship meal and are starting to add attendees. Growth and community service are the goals.” -Deacon Fred Ellrich, Mission Pickwick, Counce, TN
“My hope is that we can focus less on pandemic issues and more fully on the mission of the Church- to evangelize and make disciples. We have just completed a parish-wide Christianity Explored which was well-received. I believe this pandemic, and its aftermath, have created a window of opportunity for the Gospel. People are asking questions about good and evil and God and humanity. They are looking for truth in a time where it’s easy to be skeptical because the truth seems so politicized and malleable. So I think we have an opportunity here. My hope and prayer is that our Parish (and our Diocese) will be reaching out to our communities in new and creative ways that will bring many to saving faith in Christ.” – The Rev. Chris Findley, St. Patrick’s Anglican Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
“My hope for the coming year is that we would be stronger both personally in our faith and corporately as a congregation as a result of suffering together this past year.” – The Rev. Eric Zolner, All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO
Let us continue to pray for all parishes of the Anglican Diocese of the South, and thank God for his faithfulness throughout the past year, and the years to come.
A Collect of Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Peril
Almighty God, our strong tower of defense in time of trouble: We offer you praise and heartfelt thanks for our deliverance from the dangers which lately surrounded us. We confess that your goodness alone has preserved us; and we ask you still to continue your mercies toward us, that we may always know and acknowledge you as our Savior and mighty Deliverer; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– The Book of Common Prayer 2019, p. 683
By Ivy Swann
ADOTS Communications Associate