A Challenging and Rewarding Call

By: Reverend Catherine Erwin, Pastor

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Ministry is a challenging but rewarding call in any time … but ministry during a pandemic has unexpected challenges, and hidden joys. I am Rev. Catherine Erwin, Minister at Faith Community United Church of Christ Prairie Grove, (and a member of the board of FaithBridge Interfaith) 

As many of you may know, some congregations have met within their traditional worship spaces during parts of this tumultuous year, but many have not … and even for those who have, worship has probably not been the experience most people were used to, for some - for all their lives.   For many congregations the answers for being “the church together”  during “Covid times” have been an exercise in experimentation, and a struggle to balance tradition, the familiar, and safety.  As a smaller congregation we have not been an exception.   

The same constructions of community that can make smaller church such a joy, are also some of the greater/est challenges of Community during Covid. One of the joys of small church is the camaraderie. People come on Sunday knowing that, even after only a week or two, people will know their names, be happy to see them and will spend time to catch up. Accessibility and one-on-one relationships are the core of small church … until those face-to-face encounters are ended … by a pandemic. 

Many small churches are also “older” churches, with many parishioners in their 60s or 70s, or older. Many are retired. Their children are busy with careers, jobs and the grand kids. It’s an age that faces lots of isolation … and church often is a solution to this concern. In many churches this also equates to a lower level of tech skills. It also often means smaller budgets. Many small churches I know do not have wifi. Many had not started any kind of virtual church. Most people attending there came looking for that "In-person" experience, so virtual church is of little interest.   

Then there is the day when a pandemic shuts things down. So … how do you continue to offer that Godly connection, sense of community, and assurance that they are a part of the church with no walls. Like many of my colleagues in smaller churches, I have spent much of my time on two things …1) crash courses in technology … whatever system and style of virtual church, of worship, and 2) communication … lots of communication.  I am blessed with some seniors who “do Tech,” people in their 80s and 90s who text and navigate the internet well, but we also have some folks who don’t have internet, don’t have, or want, a computer.  

We have a few folks have made it their mission to send Birthday cards, and just occasional letters to touch base with everyone. We had some short, outdoor communion services, masked with social distancing, during the summer months that help folks reconnect. But the number one communication …  I spend a good deal of my time on good old fashioned phone calls. 

This takes considerably more time to keep in touch with folks, and you have to be proactive. Many folks “don’t want to bother the Minister”, but they DO want those conversations … about the additional stresses and concerns for self, family, and friends in a world framed by a pandemic. 

And I am blessed, recharged by some of the wonderful sharing that can happen when people know they have my undivided attention. I also always encourage them to call someone else in the congregation… just to say hi!  We were also blessed to find another “old school” option for Sunday morning worship.  

We do a one-hour radio broadcast with our local not-for-profit station, WYML fm.!  Most of my low-tech homes can tune us in on the radio … and high-tech homes can catch the service on the internet and, added recently, go to our Facebook page for additional study questions and worship recap. I am constantly surprised and uplifted by the resilience, faith, and ingenuity of the people of my congregation.       

Blessings and peace to you all! 

Walking together with our incredible God,
Rev. Catherine