Sheer effort of emerging from Covid
Updated: Jun 23
It took this chaser dragonfly in my garden several hours to emerge from her larval form (and up to 3 years as a larva in the pond). It was worth her efforts!
Anna Chaplaincy network member Catriona Foster, Pastor for Older People, at St John's Church, Harborne, Birmingham, describes how different, and how uncharacteristically tired, she has felt as the pandemic has continued.
Before Easter I got tied in knots over what and how I should be planning for the ministry among older people when we start emerging from lockdown. In addition to the uncertainties of the virus and the roadmap out of lockdown, I found myself questioning whether or not I still had the physical or mental capacity to return to working as I had been pre-pandemic. And did I even want to continue in that capacity?
I soon discovered these feelings were common and that many in ministry hadn’t realised what emerging would feel like for us – perhaps we were too busy wondering how our older friends would fare?
Over Lent, as I spent extended time waiting before God, I felt clearly led to lay down ALL plans. I was simply to seek God, and in time, he would guide one step at a time.
Now I am deeply thankful for this clear guidance. I had thought that I should be planning lots of things, but God knew what I didn’t know – not just that restrictions would last longer, but that doing anything post-lockdown would require a huge amount of extra time and energy in both the organising and executing of plans.
I guess teachers have learnt that lesson, as well as many businesses. And I’m sure many reading this will have experienced it too.
For me, this has meant that my time and energy have been focussed mainly on restarting a weekly midweek service, plus a limited start to pastoral visiting. With social distancing, I can only fit about one-third of the normal midweek congregation into church, so I am sending personal invitations each week, initially by letter to all but gradually some by email. It’s a time-consuming, ongoing task. However, in keeping with my vision of an accessible, ‘user-friendly’ service, I try to maintain a personal touch, and take care that individual needs are met. For example, where it might matter, some people are invited to the same service as their friends, and some are invited specifically when I have a driver available to offer them transport. Gathering replies and tweaking the lists also takes much time – a quick phone call to let me know can become a long pastoral chat! However, everyone needs to let me know whether or not they can come because I have to arrange the correct amount of socially distanced seating, taking into account couples, singles, mobility issues, wheelchairs, etc.
Setting up takes much longer than in pre-Covid times. Time has also been given to writing new Risk Assessments and training up a welcome team who need to know all the protocols and procedures. We follow government and Church of England guidelines and operate at a pace that we feel is appropriate for our own specific church situation, recognising that all churches are different. (Our own church building is brand new and not yet in full use.)
Then there’s the actual content of the service. I find two singers each week who are willing to sing upfront with microphones – and then check if they know the hymns I had in mind. I prepare paper orders of service every week – more time typing, printing, folding. Every word spoken from the front is carefully planned, thinking how best we can help these dear older people feel comfortable when they have become unused to coming out and sitting through a service – an acknowledgement of how big a step this will feel for some; some humour to break the ice and help them to relax despite the mask-wearing and social distancing; a reminder of the rules; and encouragement that we can worship ‘loudly’ in our hearts even although we can only whisper the hymn words.
The service is kept short – 35 mins – and rather than having extra people to do the reading and prayers, we only have two people speaking from the front: the service leader and the person bringing a five-minute ‘Thought’ who also does the scripture reading. We invite the congregation to join in various spoken responses which helps them to engage and feel a part of it, even although they are not able to sing. We have not been serving refreshments after the service as we normally would have done, and this is greatly missed, but we encourage people to linger and chat once outside the building.
I never imagined how time-consuming organising one small midweek service could be, but this is what life is like for all of us now in these times – DIFFERENT! Despite the frustrating limitations, everyone has appreciated these gatherings and found them a positive experience. Perhaps that would not have been the case without the huge investment of time and effort involved in organising them.
Four things I’m learning in my ‘emergence journey’:
Not to compare myself with others – every situation is unique, and we are unique!
I need to lay down guilt – the inner critic tells me I am not doing enough.
We can’t do everything. We don’t have to do everything. And God doesn’t want us to do everything.
Extra time spent in organising one activity may feel like a frustrating waste of time, but in God’s economy there will be blessing and fruit from it.