What is it like being a pastor of three congregations right now in the midst of such an unusual crisis? What is it like being a rural pastor, where people can tell you more in a hug or a handshake than in an hour of conversation? How has ministry continued in the midst of a complete shutdown of physical attendance in our sanctuaries, and visitation in our homes as we “social distance” from one another? Perhaps I can give a few word pictures of what it has been like as we enter our fifth week of protecting each other from the pandemic while doing ministry.
We usually start off most days with exercise at the YMCA, where I can walk the track and read for upcoming sermons and teaching while the two little ones get childcare and my wife enjoys the gym. Ransom is at school most school days, and Harper is easier when she is alone and can’t bother her big brother. I am usually in the office most afternoons working or doing visitations. Around 4:30 pm, I come home for dinner with the family, then in the evenings there are often meetings or an occasional Bible Study being lead.
There is no such thing as “normal” now.
Days start early with the kids eating, then move into schoolwork, then into play, and then into some cartoons, then into lunchtime, then into outside exercise, then into nap-time. This is the time I am able to have about two hours of uninterrupted writing, reading, communicating, calling, prayer, preaching recording etc. Two hours or less depending on the nap. Amanda is usually gracious when I’m on a deadline but I usually have 3-4 hour blocks to practice guitar, worship, think through problems, pray and meet up. The day goes by quickly, because we are at home more, eating at home more, in spaces more, the house gets messier more which means more cleaning time, more dishes, more time cleaning up after the kids. All things come in randomly, and so work happens whenever it can happen. I have a Kindle I can grasp, Facebook groups for prayer, Live Video at designated times, iMovie on the laptop for quick worship editing, cell phone receiving texts with special music and calls and texts for prayer and comfort while members are going through tough times.
The first two weeks of having no service physically and working from home were two things. (1) A blinding light of “just get stuff done” all over the place. Easter was coming! I watched every news report, read all the articles, followed the Bishop’s communications, prayed with people over the world constantly, and when the smoke cleared, I realized as well that it was: (2) An incredibly stressful experience completely reorienting ministry from a ministry of presence, to being present virtually. Sunday mornings were the toughest. I had to imagine my congregation as I preached, and get into the sense that the Spirit of God would spread the Good News despite the lack of touch – which is the very sign of the incarnation and the center of our theology in Christianity. That God is physical, not just a spiritual entity without a care for our very physical world. I had to learn to give lots of “hearts” on comments, and wish folks “Good Morning” on a video premier and on Youtube comments – while wrestling our very active and loving children, who like myself, are very loud.
And listening to myself preach. Well, I’ll just say that it is very hard to sit and watch oneself – knowing how much better one can be without the distractions. HOLY SPIRIT TAKE THE WHEEL! “Lord I pray you’ll speak through me, but if not, speak in spite of me!” The greatest prayer for a preacher speaking on the word of God.
As pastors, we love our congregations, the people, so much it is hard to convey how it feels to do Zoom meetings that just aren’t as organic or warm as meeting together in a fellowship hall. I also am reminded of the lament of having to cancel our Elder’s Music and Food Fellowship meetings, a Homecoming that would have united one of our church family’s members in dispersal, men’s breakfasts, women’s mission and prayer meetings, youth groups, exercise groups, and servant leadership development, and not to mention the countless ways that God’s saints meet on the side and show love to their neighbor.
But before I lament too long, I have to highlight what the Lord continues to do among us as a Kingdom that is unshakeable. Every evening our young people have been meeting for devotion and prayer and there has been a depth gained from that kind of discipline. Our worship services, which are online now, seem to be reaching between 300-400 people regularly, often with over 1,000 views of the services. Musicians have been sending music, and in the future we will have a stockpile of worship services to share with the community, the homebound, for those in other states of countries. Personally, my mom and dad have joined in worship and Bible Studies on Zoom, and we have had someone from London, England join us regularly.
There is something of a quiet revival happening under the surface, and I pray that the Lord continues to breathe new life into our many currents so that when we return together (oh how glorious it will be!), we will be remade from this temporary monasticism which has been forced upon us by a natural disaster called Covid-19.Tweet
God can use this trial to refine us and prepare us for a greater good to come. I say that not to minimize the grieving of the 40,000 people in the us and 160,000 people who so far have lost their lives, but I say it in faith, because I know as a pastor who presides over funerals and also baptizes and also officiates weddings – that God holds us in the palm of His hands in Life and in Death. Nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus! Absolutely nothing! See this:
“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39 NLT
Right now, I am praying that the Lord would continue to guide us. I also pray that I am being the leader our people need right now. That as we are in this “pause” that we don’t lose the opportunity to reset the clock, and ask the Lord if we truly are doing what God is calling us to do and not our own selfish desires, or what is comfortable. Let us be refined in this fire, and may the same God that got Daniel through the Lion’s Den, and who saved his friends from the firey furnace, the same God who delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, the same God who gave us his own presence through Jesus Christ, and who laid down his own life – lets be listening and ready, because on the other side of this hill is a promised land we can’t imagine. We simply have to keep moving, and we will get there.
As a pastor, my jobs is to remind everyone of the faithfulness of God through the ages, so that we might remember and see the future more clearly. Certainly, we now have the time for reflection. Let’s take the deep breath together and feel out what this all means for our churches, our families, and our communities. May compassion flow from these old riverbeds, and may new life grow in the deserted places, as a pathway for the Lord is laid, and the wilderness prepares to bloom again. God is good, and is always with us. Let’s stand and see what’s to come.
-Pastor Daniel R. Griswold,
The Ridgeville Charge of the United Methodist Church of South Carolina