This summer marks a critical moment in our COVID-19 journey. As we plan for the upcoming program year, I worry that our desire for things to return to “normal,” including church, will prevent us from reflecting and learning from the experience of the last 18 months.
Four Hours, Four Questions
Recently, I organized a four-hour church staff “mini-retreat” to pause and reflect on what we’ve learned during COVID and how we want to proceed together as a staff and a church.
We organized our time around four key questions:
- What have been your key learnings from COVID?
- What are the things you are letting go?
- What will you do differently?
- What do we need from each other?
I asked everyone to respond to these questions in advance, then I compiled the answers and shared them with the group during the retreat. We took one question at a time, breaking into small groups to discuss each one. There were about four people in each group. We read everyone’s responses and then we discussed what stood out. Then we shared our reflections and captured them on poster paper. These are some of the responses:
What have been your key learnings from COVID?
- Grief and Gratitude can co-exist – I experienced pain and loss and yet also beauty through the ashes.
- I am more resilient than I thought I was.
- I became much more aware of new ways to connect with families.
- My motto this year was stay the course and pivot when necessary. I will continue to carry this with me.
- There is a lot of trauma in our congregation from the COVID and isolation.
- Relationships were what kept people connected in many of our programs.
What are the things you are letting go?
- Concerns over large numbers attending rehearsals or services
- Things will not go back to how the way it was in early 2019. This is something (COVID) that we will have to live alongside for years to come.
- Paper mailings.
- Worship can only happen at the same times as before.
- Burnout (hopefully!)
- Letting go of making people feel better rather than being honest.
What will you do differently?
- Less focus on Sunday morning; more focus on weekday and digital activities.
- Encourage more instrumental offerings.
- Plan events and programs that accommodate different levels of comfort with COVID.
- Creating meaningful digital membership.
- Continuing to utilize outdoor space.
- More digital communications with families.
What do we need from each other?
I won’t share the particular responses here, but, in summary, the conversation around this question moved our retreat from just a planning exercise to something more personal. We talked about honesty, patience, listening, and support as some of the things we need. We’ve already had some important opportunities to provide support and encouragement to one another, particularly as we face changes and uncertainties due to the Delta variant.
This gathering helped us to pause, come up for air, get on the same page, understand one another’s hopes and concerns, affirm the work we have done, and commit to supporting one another moving forward. The simplicity of the questions helped the experience feel like less of a burden for an already tired staff. Our keywords for the days ahead are resilient, flexible, and creative.