The pandemic and the “new normal” it brings has been a trial for all of us. From work to worship and everything in between, very few aspects of our world have remained the same post-COVID.
In our personal, professional, and spiritual lives, many of us find ourselves experiencing a sense of beginning anew. Like Hagar and Ishmael, we are at a crossroads: behind us lies the familiar, while an uncertain future stretches before us. At their lowest moment, when that uncertain future seemed to be materializing into certain doom, Hagar and Ishmael heard the voice of God beckoning them to renewed hope and prosperity.
In the anxiety and turmoil of the present day, our Catholic parishes have a unique opportunity to be that voice for our parishioners. The pandemic has happened to all of us, and despite the divisions forming in its wake, this can be a unifying moment. Whatever our personal stance on masking and vaccination, we are all experiencing some level of confusion, uncertainty, and bewilderment. Our hearts are restless, and as St. Augustine reminds us, there is only one place we can find the rest we seek.
Let’s use this moment to create a connection with our parishioners, letting them know that their parish family is walking alongside them, ready to help them hear the voice of God as, together, we face whatever the future holds.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as your parish crafts any ministries or initiatives in this post-pandemic world.
Personal connections are more important than ever
Probably the only thing everyone can agree on these days is that COVID-19 reminded us of how closely we are all connected — and how those personal connections have the ability to impact not just our physical health, but our mental and spiritual health, too. Whatever your parish does, keep in mind that your community members are hungering for a sense of belonging. They want to feel seen, known, appreciated, and loved on an individual, personal level.
Assess your community’s need
Just as there are similarities in how we have all been impacted by COVID, there are also dramatic differences among our experiences which are unique to our social, economic, and geographic realities.
Every parish is different, and every parish has been affected by the pandemic in its own way. Take a look at just what that means for your community. Are your parishioners largely working-class? If so, have their industries been one of the ones most affected by shutdowns and social distancing, or were most of them able to keep their jobs? Was your geographic area hit particularly hard by the virus? What is the vaccination rate in your community? What is the average age of your parishioners — are they mostly younger families, or are they older people who may be much more affected by isolation and hesitant to go out in public again? What was it that they lost during this pandemic on the largest scale — health, normalcy, faith? How can you help them move forward?
Let people know you respect them
There will be no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to things like masking, social distancing, and safety protocols. Know and accept that people on both sides of these debates will be disappointed in how your parish handles them. Recognize that your real objective is to ensure that you are honoring people’s fear, whatever it is, and not dismissing it — that you are making them feel valued and respected as a whole person.
God is above all of this
These words of St. Teresa of Avila are important to remember at all times in parish ministry, but never more than during a pandemic: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing, God is unchanging. Patience gains all; nothing is lacking to those who have God. God alone is sufficient.”
It is so easy to, like the disciples in the midst of the sea storm, pay attention to the waves and not the Savior who has the ability to calm them. It is the job of those working in the Church to remind their communities — and themselves — that this is but one difficult moment among many in the history of salvation, and that our loving God has reigned supreme throughout them all.