I remember months ago constantly hearing people ask: “Do you even know one person who’s had COVID?”
We don’t hear this question so much anymore, because the reality of the pandemic has hit home for us all. We all know someone, and for some of us of many someones who have been sick, have died, or have had their lives turned upside down in some way in 2020. The crisis has seemingly come to every doorstep.
I wrote some short paragraphs and a prayer below to give a perspective from the pastoring side of this year that I know many of my brothers and sisters in ministry can echo. We pastors, chaplains, funeral directors, etc. often pick things up where our medical professionals–who have been true heroes this year–leave things off. We are the ones who, before this year, have essentially always had a “free pass” to be there with the sick, dying, and bereaved no matter the circumstance.
I pray these words will make each us more prayerful, kind, and thoughtful as we finish out this very hard year. Perhaps they will also help us to consider whether or not we are being respectful and Christ-honoring in the things we say or share regarding the virus, masks, and decisions those in ministry have to make.
From March until now, every pastor has faced a new world.
Shepherding our families and churches through such times has been a demanding challenge of our high calling in many unfamiliar ways, but that has not been the hardest part.
We had our Easter services online, cancelled most of our activities, and have watched in-person attendance dwindle–especially among young families and children, but none of those are it either.
Recently, we’ve watched our online “views” go from astronomical to continually declining, but that also has not been the hardest part.
We’ve been bombarded with endless opinions, information, and “research” about all we should be saying and doing. These things might be the more tiresome, but they also are not the hardest.
We’ve seen many Christians (including other pastors and leaders) say and do some really irresponsible things, but that’s still not it.
Many of us just feel stuck in an indefinite holding pattern as we continue to face all of these above, but even our “stuckness” is not the hardest part.
The hardest part has been the loss of humanity in ministering to the hurting. And everyone is hurting. We’ve learned that beloved church members, friends, or even family died isolated and alone. We’ve comforted those who had to say goodbye to loved ones over an iPad or watch a graveside service on FaceTime. We’ve watched couples who have been married for 30, 40, 50, 60 years or more not be able say goodbye to each other . . and children, grandchildren, and brothers and sisters and best friends who were. not. allowed. in. We’ve listened to husbands and wives who’ve dropped off their spouses at the curb of the ER, or treatment center, or even for surgery cry over the phone. And the sickness is worse right now than it has been at any point.
Yet in nearly all of these cases, we’ve not been able to be there. We’ve lost count of the hospital visits we would have made but couldn’t, and the bedsides of the dying at which we would have ministered but did not. There’s been no sitting with families in their home to comfort them in their loss. There’s been few hugs or touches of comfort on shoulders, even at the funerals and memorials we’ve officiated. We’ve laid to rest more people than any other time in our ministry, yet few people attend those services and they all wear masks. When we hear people sing it’s mostly been muffled. When they cry we comfort them from a distance. Even now we know so so many people who are sick, and the best we can do is hope they read our text messages. None of us signed up for this kind of ministry, and none of our seminary classes prepared us for a year like this.
Yet we know we are not alone. Who among every person on earth has not suffered in a new way this year? Who among us is not feeling weighted down and wrung out as we come into December, the month that usually carries with it the most joy? We don’t usually lament during December, we save that for Lent. But this year we do. Because this year, nothing is “usual”, and it’s ok for all of us to admit that.
God, as we move into the unknowns of the next few weeks: May we seek your wisdom. May we show grace and mercy. May we be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. May we return criticism with kindness. May we be more patient with others than we ever have before. May we pledge to never again take experiencing humanity for granted. May we proclaim the words of Advent daily: Hope, Love, Joy, Peace, Christ.
Lord, hear our prayers.