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Planning for ministry during COVID-19

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell

March 14, 2020

In a previous article in The Christian Citizen, I shared my experience as a pastor in Seattle, detailing how quickly COVID-19 has impacted our community and especially our church in an eight-day timeframe. Here I’d like to share some tips and practices for planning worship and pastoral care.

Planning Worship. Cancelling a worship service is the last thing many of us want to do. Those who minister in areas with snowstorms know this feeling all too well. It is even more difficult knowing that this is an ongoing crisis—once we cancel worship one Sunday, we are in it until this is over. However, we need to rethink our approach. Instead of canceling, we are moving our worship to at-home and online.

Questions to ask. How might your worship service be different? If you do not have a congregation present in person, how can they interact from home? This question might depend on what tool you are using. If you use Facebook Live, participants can reply on the live video. If you use Zoom or Google, people can participate via video or call, based on the settings you choose.

Music. Is the music you use covered by a streaming license? This is different than your standard copyright license and is an additional cost. You must be sure that this license covers all the music you will be streaming. If you are using Facebook Live or posting the video to your website, you will want to include in the description your license number. Another option is to choose public domain hymns, or to check with composers about permissions to use their music.

Liturgy. Liturgy is also often copyrighted, and it’s often made for an in-person gathering. Depending on how you stream your service, you may not be able to do call and response liturgy, so consider unison readings that can be posted online, ways of interacting via text or posts on a Facebook Live feed.

Bible Study or prayer groups. Move these online. We already do Bible Study via Google Hangouts, and those who don’t have computer access join me at the church join me there. We have suspended the in-person gathering but are continuing to meet via Google Hangouts. I’ve now moved my community hours at a coffee shop to Google Hangouts, where we can chat and pray.

Missions. If your congregation or individuals are able, this is a time to support your local organizations. If the local shelters or soup kitchens are still taking volunteers, and you have people who are not in the at-risk categories, encourage them to volunteer. If you are not able to volunteer with hands-on help, perhaps you can do food or supply drives and drop them off. At the very least, perhaps financial contributions can be encouraged to those services in need.

Pastoral Care. For some, we are going to have to use old-school tech to connect. Calls and cards. Invite your congregation to participate in this, as this should not all fall to you as the pastor. Make sure people have addresses and phone numbers (with permission, of course) to call, text, and send cards.

Grief. This will be on many different levels. The hard news is this: you may likely lose someone in your congregation to this virus. Most likely, you will not be able to hold their memorial service for several weeks. Others will be very ill, and you may not be able to visit them. Our seniors and those with underlying health concerns are going to be very lonely.

People will lose their jobs. Children will lose their routine and stability. As a parent of a child with disabilities, most of my child’s services are accessed through the public school and are not available during this crisis. Everything is turning upside down. Grief is real, and raw. Allow people space to feel their feelings.

As pastors, we need to do what we can to remind people they are not alone, but it’s also an invitation for us right now. We live in a society based on production, and production is being halted. We live in a busy world, and that busy world is putting on the breaks. This is an invitation for us to put on the brakes. This is a time for us to read, take on a hobby, and reconnect with family and friends far away through technology, whether old or new.

Resurrection is coming. New life will flourish. We can spot the signs of it now as we creatively re-imagine what worship and fellowship can be like.

We are in the midst of Lent. In a sense, I think Ash Wednesday was this week. We sort of knew it was coming but it hit us now. We are deep into Lent, but Easter is coming. And what a glorious Easter it will be. Whether it is April 12th, or April 19th on the Orthodox calendar, or whether we celebrate later in the Easter season, we know that resurrection is coming. New life will flourish. We can spot the signs of it now as we creatively re-imagine what worship and fellowship can be like. And beyond Easter, we can plan on an awesome Pentecost celebration, where we can look back and see where the Holy Spirit has been at work this whole time.

The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church, Seattle, Wash., and ministry associate of social media for the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches USA. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, Rev-o-lution.

Additional resources:

Resources for clergy on COVID-19

The Christian Citizen Featured Series: Responding to COVID19 (scroll down home page)

Creating Live Streamed Worship in Three Days

American Baptist Home Mission Societies Guidelines

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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