In this series we acknowledge that "disasters do not wait until we are fully prepared", that many leaders are learning as they go, and we extend our hope that though sharing perspectives you may find some easier ways to create a new rhythm at this time. Read What’s Working For Me Right Now - Part 1 here.
When I was younger in ministry, many years ago now, I remember talking to another pastor who had just returned from a sabbatical. I had never had a sabbatical so I was curious to hear what he learned. Without hesitating, he said, “I found out what kind of a Christian I was outside of my identity as a pastor.”
Those words were a game-changer for me in how I assessed my own identity. I am a professional Bible studier, prayer, leader, teacher, shepherd and a whole lot more but without the role of pastor who would I be as a person, a child of God?
The role of a pastor is to shepherd, guide and be with one’s people, in the same physical space. What happens when that is taken away? In the middle of this unprecedented pandemic, we are finding out.
California was the first state to adopt “shelter-in-home” standards. When the order was given my home became my “permanent” office. Previously, working from home, was a nice little change in the weekly routine. Now, it is the routine.
Presently I feel I am asking the question again, but for a very different reason, “Without the role of pastor, with one’s people, who would I be?”
To get at this I want to share a shortlist of what is working for me, at the moment (Check back with me in a few days or weeks!):
In the midst of all the turbulence and unprecedented circumstances may you find what works for you. May it bring you strength, wisdom and peace to walk forward as you care for yourself, your family and your people.
On Sleep: Mukherjee, S., Patel, S. R., Kales, S. N., Ayas, N. T., Strohl, K. P., Gozal, D., & Malhotra, A. (2015). American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 191(12), 1450–1458. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201504-0767st https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.201504-0767ST
On Positive Consequences: Updegraff, J. (2008). Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 709–722.
Following 9/11, and many other types of disasters since, I've heard a lot of stories about new relationships. Stories about the marriages that occurred or the babies that were conceived. Stories about how, for the people telling the stories, tragedy helped them to clarify what they wanted in life, what mattered to them, what joy they had right in front of them, or how love helped them feel more grounded amid incredibly destabilizing loss.
Of course, I've also heard the stories of how, for others, tragedy wreaks more tragedy. How the overwhelming stress of disaster can lead others to act in abusive ways, ways they thought they had settled in the past, or ways they never before imagined enacting. I've listened to the shame and guilt, and, most of all in these cases, the difficulty in finding the words to acknowledge what unfolded. The way they may have sexually, physically, emotionally, or spiritually harmed people in thier circles of home and work.
People react differently to stress, to grief, and to loss.
People react differently to stress, to grief, and to loss. For some, proceeding through their emotions and reactions becomes a pilgrimage in discovering more about what is most meaningful to them. For others, experiences of loss, grief, or immense stress feel so alien, they struggle to recognize themselves and, rather than moving toward healing and restoration, their suffering becomes the preoccupation.
Faith leaders hold a quintessential role in shepherding, or hosting spaces for, the wide range of responses to tragedy that may unfold within their congregation.
Faith leaders, especially in the aftermath of great community loss, hold a quintessential role in shepherding, or hosting space(s) for, the wide range of responses to tragedy that may unfold within their congregation. They help the congregation to bear witness, together, to the scope of what has happened – not only the catalyst(s) of heartache, but the range of responses as well. They honor each person's perspective, while helping one another to participate in co-creating senses of belonging.
Here are some of the ways that happens:
Overall, faith leaders guide the congregation in discovering, living out, and recalling the story of who they are before, during, and after tremendous upheaval.
This video outlines 4 simple embodied coping practices, which may be useful to manage anxiety and panic during social isolation, lockdown, quarantine, and response to the COVID-19 disaster. You can watch the whole video or forward to a particular practice.
The presenter is the Rev. Dr. Storm Swain, the Frederick Houk Borsch Associate Professor of Anglican Studies, Pastoral Care, and Theology at the United Lutheran Seminary, and author of 'Trauma and Transformation at Ground Zero: A Pastoral Theology,' Fortress, 2011.
Watch the whole video above, or use these timestamps to skip to a particular practice.
Instinctual Response in a time of Crisis or Disaster- Skip to this section 0:25
Embodied Coping Practices- Skip to this section 2:49
Read more from Rev. Dr. Storm Swain here.
Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.