On Thursday, March 5th, 2020, I eagerly packed the trunk of my tan 1998 Toyota Corolla to travel from my hometown to Western Massachusetts. There have been many times that I have packed my noble stead, Yoda, for travel across the country, most of them to Sewanee for study and fellowship at The School of Theology. However, this time was different because I was making my way up north for my ordination to the diaconate on Saturday, March 7th, 2020. As I looked around at the smiles of people who have been with me along the way, I felt deeply that even though this was the beginning of my ordained ministry, the ministry of love had already begun in the relationships that God has built over our lifetimes.
And Then… Covid…
Once ordained a deacon, we celebrated that night, and then the following morning I made my way back home to the D.C., Maryland, Virginia Metropolitan area. Two days later the world shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic! I was shocked, anxious, confused, and had a thought looped inside my mind: “what is happening?”Like many of us across the world, I was completely at a loss for what to do, and especially how to live into my ordained ministry while we were in quarantine.
Six months later, I was ordained a priest during a time of mask-wearing, social-distancing, and the birth of our new virtual church ministry. This day is when we were able to truly experience how to safely and meaningfully navigate marking this milestone during this pandemic. There were many practical elements that I found helpful for celebrating the day, here are five that worked for me and my community!
Celebrating A Milestone During A Pandemic: Five Tips
Communicate Early & Clearly
Create a plan and do your best to communicate what the safety protocols are BEFORE the service or event. Have a plan not only for worship, but also for fellowship, spiritual formation, and outreach. Clear communication will bring some sense of peace to the minds of those who may be concerned about in-person activities. Ensure you know the local, state, and national mandates for gathering in-person, even when mandates begin to lift in your area. Cover the basics and be flexible.
Practice the movements, just as we would before the pandemic. Run through the service or event. Practicing how you will move throughout the space will offer comfort to everyone who is moving in the space, while also empowering the participants to be “examples” of how to navigate the physical space during a time of heightened awareness of public health.
Offer An Online Option
If possible, offer something virtual for those in your community who are not able, or comfortable, returning to in-person gatherings. Whether it be an iPhone on a tripod or a fully wired live-streaming system, it will be important to continue offering a virtual option. I encourage virtual options for all communities because it expands your ability to do ministry and to keep reaching those who may slowly transition back to the space or have no plans of doing so. Remind them that God can still meet them where they are!
Take Your Time
Do not rush, offer a gradual “roll out” of in-person options for gathering. Even as mask and social-distance mandates begin to cease, they are still in our minds and it will take time to adjust to. Give people breathing room to feel comfortable, and when you talk with them, ensure them that it is okay for them to take their time with coming back. Remember that not everyone will return, so also offer a “roll out” of virtual gatherings. But not too many, to avoid “Zoom fatigue”.
Consider Outside Options
Get creative with the outdoor option when possible! There are many ways that we can celebrate our milestones, whether it be a drive-thru, a tent set up, or a meeting in the park. Nature is God’s gift to us; it is where we communed before buildings were around. At Grace, we have had a few outdoor options for celebrating milestones, such as my ordination and the birth of my colleague’s child. We used tents to offer a gathering space, and we invited folks to join in the celebration at their comfort!
These five tips created a safe, comfortable, and meaningful atmosphere for my ordination, and they also helped with other services like baptisms, funerals, and in-person fellowship. Being prepared is the best we can offer to those whom we love and minister to, knowing that we won’t be perfect, but in all of it, God’s ministry of love is still moving in Jesus name!