Pandemic Fall-Out and Masks

Greetings, darlings.

What weirdness abounds!
Thanks be to God for seeing us through this far. If you are reading this, you may be serving in parish ministry and if you are, congratulations for surviving. Friends in the search and settlement and clergy coaching business, and news about religion in America, plus many conversations with clergy colleagues, inform me that this is an unprecedented time of resignation from parish positions. I want to talk more about that later and especially to create a space for the sharing of anonymous testimonials that have led to your decisions to leave your ministry positions or to pursue other kinds of work entirely.

I have heard too many stories over the past months of pastors being forced out of their pulpits by anxious congregations who expected their clergy to be able to pivot with no warning and no training and not enough support or grace to on-line worship leaders and crisis response expert. I am angry and devastated by the unfairness of these scapegoatings and shocked by the horrible acting out I have heard clergy share on social media. I am not an unconditional supporter of clergy: my loyalty is to God and the gathered people of God trying to live faithfully into our covenant with the divine, and I do not stand in defense of ministers out of professional courtesy or anything else. But I have seen too many worthy pastors with their heads on the block for deficiencies for which they should not be held entirely accountable, since those deficiencies are explicitly related to the “failure” to perform functions for which (say it again for the cheap seats) they had no preparation, no prior experience, minimal to no support, and no training. The heartlessness shown by some congregational leaders has been shocking and I use the term scapegoat very intentionally. It is obvious to me that some people just wanted to punish someone for their fear and frantic loss of control.

Shout out, praise hands and a shipment of chocolate to all the lay leaders in all ministry settings who were compassionate with each other and their clergy, who grieved what we all had to suspend without acting out about it, who served on COVID-safety task forces and tech teams and offered their time and expertise to church when their own lives were exceedingly stressful and who took the many frustrations we all experienced as we coped with this strange and scary territory in stride. God bless all of them.

THAT SAID, let us discuss masks!

I am so grateful to be back in the sanctuary with my congregation, and although I did manage to learn a lot of video editing and online skills in 2020, leading worship on Zoom was a creative and psychic drain unlike anything else I have ever experienced in this work. I have certainly had seasons when it was a particular struggle to stay connected to the soul or to feel and articulate the living God, but there has not been anything remotely close to the demands of maintaining a preaching ministry online during a pandemic.

So I am just incredibly glad to be with the congregation even in masks, and even with all the protocols in place that are keeping us safer while denying us cherished fellowship traditions. I assume these measures are temporary and I will gladly endure them rather than live in isolation trying desperately to connect with people over Zoom.

I get tested weekly and am of COURSE vaccinated. Our first week back, I did not remove my mask. Let’s take a look. Click to enlarge

Nice satin pink, cone shape didn’t rest on my face but it was actually much hotter than a surgical mask and I had to really project the whole service. Overall, though, workable. Then the choir and the congregation encouraged me to remove the mask when I speak. I wear an ear-worn microphone so I had that, and the mask ear loops and occasional use of reading glasses to deal with. I decided not to remove the mask entirely but to pull it under my chin. The result is definitely an “Oh honey, no” look. Is that a FEED BAG?

Click to enlarge

So this doesn’t work, and the only solution is going to have to be to remove the whole thing for the sermon. I don’t mind the chinstrap silliness for some of the service but I think it’s distracting enough to need a fix for the sermon. I have heard of preachers letting the mask dangle off of one ear but that doesn’t seem like a good idea and also possibly a fire hazard.

What are you all doing with your masks?

Kiss of peace, PB

Clergy Vaccinations

Greetings, Earthlings,

There has been a lot of conversation among the people of the cloth (my cloth is organic cotton and occasionally fleece) about vaccinations. Are they available, are clergy in Group One or Group 1B or Group 2, and what should I do if I’m under 75 but have two co-morbidities and live with someone who works in a nursing home?

God help us, we don’t know what we’re doing because we have never done this before.

If all of the states had fairly well-oiled scheduling machines up and running to administer the vaccine, we would have a clearer understanding of when AND HOW we will be getting that much-desired shot in the arm.

If your state has a clear system, that’s wonderful and congratulations.
My state (commonwealth) has not rolled out information or availability in an organized fashion. There is a lot of confusion, rumors and hearsay.

My feeling is that because there is not a clear plan, clergy should get the vaccine if it is offered to us. It is not “taking someone else’s place in line” when there is no line but a crowd milling around waiting to hear when and where to go.

If someone contacts you to say, “You are clergy, your job is to be among people, please go get the vaccine here on this date,” I hope you will go without guilt or hesitation. The sooner you are immunized, the sooner you can start to become emotionally and spiritually ready to be in proximity to humans outside your “bubble” again.

We know (although there really needs to be an information campaign about this) that we will not be 100% protected against COVID-19 even weeks after our second booster shot, but we will be much, much, much safer and if we do contract the novel coronavirus or its variants, we will become much less dangerously ill than we would have without the vaccine.

We cannot throw off our masks after the first vaccine and start visiting people. First of all, our own immunity will not be very high until a couple of weeks after the second shot. Second, there is a slight chance we can still be carriers of the virus. HOWEVER, we will certainly feel far less anxious presiding at graveside, connecting with members of our communities in the parking lot or at the food drive, and bunding up on porches to chat with folks through the window.

Some of us who live alone will be able to spend unfearful time with other vaccinated friends, and given that we have suffered almost a year of total isolation, this will be a mental health boost of inestimable value.

We can also minister in informal ways to health care workers who have been de facto chaplains in this time. The ministry of healing, support and grief work with this population is, and will continue to be, crucial and should be prioritized, but by whom? I don’t know, but I do feel that those of us who feel called to reach out to those workers won’t be able to start doing so in person until we are also vaccinated.

If you want to refrain from scheduling a vaccine so that someone else can get there first, I support that completely. I just wish we could be sure that someone else will take that spot and no doses go to waste.

If someone invites you to get a vaccine, I hope you will go and get it. We have taken on a tremendous pastoral and spiritual burden in the past almost-year. The vaccine allows us to follow the good advice to put the oxygen mask over our own faces before we try to administer life-giving air to anyone else.

Clergy Power Dynamics and Risk Assessment

Hello, struggling colleagues. Hey, I know that not one of us likes having to lead worship from our living rooms (you do? Well, BLESS YOUR HEART!). It’s weird. It’s not church in the real sense of the word. But I have been watching a lot of different worship services and have determined that good worship has much more to do with the ability of the worship leader to connect through the camera than with where they are leading from. And to be honest, a lot of worship services filmed in empty sanctuaries with the clergy robed and alone have bad audio and are sad and awkward. Since I am not a member of those congregations I do not have the memory of being in that space, which I do realize is an important element for many.

But we must continue to prioritize safety, at least in regions of the country that are still seeing consistent or increasing numbers of COVID cases. Producing worship services from people’s homes or outdoor locations is far safer and more ethical in those regions than gathering in the sanctuary with a multi-person worship team.

What I want to emphasize is that this is not a time to be unconscious of clergy power, authority and unintentional coercion: if one of us says, “I’d like to sing a duet with you while we’re well apart on the chancel, but you can say ‘no,'” are we sure that person really feels they can refuse? You’re their pastor. In many traditions, respect for clergy authority is so strong, and trust in their judgment so high, this leaves folks emotionally and spiritually vulnerable. They may suppress their own misgivings in order to support the minister who represents God to them, and to show up in church for the church they love and have faithfully served for years.

There is a power differential between clergy and the laity, and there is an even clearer power differential between clergy and church staff. These are people who may rightfully feel that if they refuse to meet or work in the building, their jobs are at stake. We have a moral obligation to carefully work out protocols and plans in consultation with trustees and their appointed safety task forces that can assess the congregation’s needs in conjunction with state and local Board of Health, CDC and Department of Health recommendations. Your desire to be in the building is not the determining factor in decision-making.

(Of course I also want to recognize that there are ministers who feel in danger of being dismissed because of their leaders’ desire to get back into the building and their own hesitation to do so for health and safety reasons. I know that there are clergy losing their jobs over this issue and I am incredibly sorry. My broken heart goes out to you that you were not respected and that your life was not deemed valuable enough by your leaders to protect. I am also devastated by the stories of pile-on complaints coming to clergy who are busting their asses trying to cope with the transitions to online church. There has been a lot of revelation of spiritual and emotional immaturity, cruelty and entitlement in our religious communities. I have heard about it from you. Some of you are leaving the ministry. This is a conversation I hope to have separately from this one about our own uses of authority. But please keep writing to me, I care very much and I am here.)

There are churches holding rites of passage and relying on God, magical thinking and collective denial to render things such as singing by a few unmasked choir members up front safe. It is not. It is a horrifying abuse of trust to those who have already taken the risk of showing up for a group indoor service to then subject them to the ego of a priest who has unilaterally decided that singers can sing and he can preside unmasked “because the bishop said so” or because he mistakenly believes he is keeping adequate distance between himself and the few worship leaders at all times (he’s not, and he’s spraying when he speaks).

Six feet of distance between people is not a magic number but a best guess. Your ordained breath singing a hymn while standing six feet behind a couple of other singers is not holy breath, and you could be spewing dangerous aerosols over these people (and they on each other). If you’re all sharing a mic, you’re engaging in, and modeling, hazardous behavior. Stop it immediately, educate yourselves on safe practices and adopt them.

By what ridiculous ego trip are clergy making these decisions? Grandiosity, denial, recklessness disguised as “commitment,” and a need to maintain their mystique as the robed Holy Person in the sacred space. An unwillingness to recognize what a destructive example they are setting by doing the bare minimum to keep people safe. Immaturity, impatience, heedlessness, and sometimes, pressure from church members and leaders.

Dearly beloved, we aim to survive this. We are six months into it in the U.S. and now is a perfect time to recommit to vigilance and care, to shore up our resolve not to get laissez-faire or fatalist about things.

Plan slowly, carefully, and taking much counsel from a wide swath of your people and science-based resources.
Examine your own authority and power in your ministry setting. Use it to protect, not to endanger.

Peace. Bang.

Why I Can’t Sleep Tonight

Two family members have COVID.
*Gestures generally around to the world.* That.
People not wearing masks and making their callous stupidity into a political statement.
Disneyworld opening!!??
General panic. worry Worry WORRY worry worry WOrry

How do we Livestream from Zoom to Facebook? Should we broacast on YouTube Live?
How about if I ask the congregation to get on a big Zoom call so we can read our covenant together and I can use that segment for recorded services? What would be the best time to do that, and would folks who don’t Zoom feel left out?

Must schedule Wisdom Circle for elders again.

Why does Filmora crash my computer every time I edit worship services?
When will I have time to clean up my desktop and transfer all the worship file segments I Airdropped from my phone to my laptop to Google Drive and then organize the past four months of Google drive worship segments into liturgical elements?
How about photos and slides? How about those? I have hundreds. Should I organize those by subject matter? Liturgical element?

I need to learn how to confidently do Zoom screen sharing. Can I do screen sharing while leading a conversation or segment? Who can do that? Are there Zoom producers out there yet? How much do they charge? What if, God forbid, I need to plan a Zoom funeral or memorial? Where did I put those helpful files from Facebook explaining how to do it?

What if we wind up doing some live events in the parking lot in August? What? How…? Do I need to buy an amp? Wha would an order of service look like? How would we livestream that? What do I plug a lap mic into? Will it disturb the neighbors if we use a sound system on Sunday mornings? What about all the dog walkers and hikers who are on the property expecting to use the grounds for recreational purposes? Do we have outside ushers? Signs? Do we put chairs out or do people stand around or stay in their cars…?
How would we do music outside?

What do we do when we eventually start to have some small gatherings in the church and some worship at home, how am I going to plan and lead all of these different kinds of programs?

Should we join with [local congregation] for worship once a month to share the stress of doing this online? They do Zoom Church.
But I hate Zoom services. They’re visually exhausting, the audio is bad, there are always glitches, the tech is unreliable, the flow is choppy.
Must schedule a call with [colleague].

How am I going to keep doing this for another year?