April 2, 2020
Many of you must be feeling like you’ve received a prison sentence given the current restrictions on your life and activities. Thinking about that I recalled that the Book of Acts closes with Paul imprisoned for the last two years of his life in the City of Rome. Despite his incarceration Paul remained a productive, world-changing minister during his jail time. He accomplished this by staying in contact with the faithful and continuing to welcome the unchurched and their questions. He wrote many pastoral letters including Ephesians and Philippians during this time and asked for the believers to pray that he would have the courage needed to continue his ministry. He remained flexible and responded to his circumstances as they were presented to him. Paul never became despondent and spent a lot of his time attending to the churches he had founded.
Outreach During Coronavirus
So how do we as a church in this time of restricted activities remain productive? I know that many of you are already active with Meals-On-Wheels and other community outreach programs. But I would ask you to also consider the following list: Donations, Faces, Feedback, Funding and Wellness.
DONATIONS – Inter Parish Ministry is reporting an increase in its client base consistent with layoffs in the community. Please consider increasing your donations and specifically, contributing antibacterial soaps, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, tissues and wipes. Anti-Bacterial cleansing wipes can be incredibly helpful to people who have no running water with which to wash their hands. While IPM is no longer accepting clothing this is an ideal time to clean to your closets and bag up clothing donations for distribution at a later date.
FACES – While words convey immense amounts of information, human beings are suffering from the inability to see the faces and bodies of their friends and family on a day basis. This is because a great proportion of what people communicate to each other is delivered through body language and facial expressions. So, if you can add video to your communications with Stephen Ministry clients, family, friends or parish members you will be providing a much needed service. I know that for many of you this will entail a steep technological learning curve but the acquisition of these new skills is well worth the effort. There are many ways that this can accomplished including computer applications like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Google Duo, Imo, What’s App, Line and Tango. Of course, this may not be possible with people who are without suitable devices to take advantage of them.
You might also consider sending a picture of yourself in a greeting card or Email to seniors and shut-ins so your image comes to mind while the recipients are reading your words.
If you are making a pastoral phone call to a friend, a seeker or a fellow parishioner consider the following conversation format:
1. Ask about their health and that of their families.
2. Ask about their feelings about their circumstances and their current concerns and needs.
3. Ask if they have any news for the parish.
4. Ask them if they have any prayer requests and if they’d be willing to pray for you, Covid-19 suffers and for the 1st responders whose lives are on the line,
5. Ask if it would be all right if you called them back at some future time. This is especially important for those who live alone.
6. Be prepared to deal with anxiety, grief, loss and sadness and assure them that their feelings are valid and understandable even though they will very likely fade over time. If you believe that their situation is beyond your ability to manage it, make a referral to one of the parish clergy.
7. Above all listen without interruption and judgement and avoid the temptation to try to “fix” them.
FEEDBACK – This is a time when many are criticizing their employers, communities, and governmental leaders and have forgotten the words of John F Kennedy who once cautioned Americans with these words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Our elected leaders are scrambling to deal with contemporaneous medical and economic crises.
It is unreasonable to think that they can answer specific questions about Novel Coronavirus as the event unfolds. The idea that human beings can control everything that can happen fails us at times like these. Also deserving of your attention are the leaders of your church. Your prayers, and support are essential to their successful ministries now and always. Likewise, your helpful feedback to them can make them much more effective.
FUNDING (Monetary Donations) – Please remember the significant amount of outreach that St Thomas Church enables as a part of its regular ministries comes from pledge donations that aren’t now being gathered during church services right now. Mailing your pledges in will assure that these ministries are maintained. We have not seen destabilization of the economy on this scale since the Great Depression. Food Pantries, and other social service organizations will be overextended as far as their budgets and shelves are concerned in a short period of time. It is an ideal time for all of us to once again “remember the poor.”
WELLNESS – Realize that social distancing puts extra stress on families who are not used to spending every day/all day in close proximity. Faced with too much togetherness, spending some time doing separate projects each day can be very helpful. Practicing a daily routine which includes productivity, exercise and leisure elements is also recommended. Talking openly with children, spouses, significant others about feelings, stresses and worries acts as a relief valve in relationships. Encourage these strategies with others during your communications with them.
Encourage communications with faith leaders and try to contribute something on your own to the fight against the virus. At the end of the Coronavirus threat we will all want to say that St Thomas Church made a difference to our congregation and others.
Thank you for all that you are doing and for following in the steps of our Lord.