Church might appear to be the same. And in many ways it is. We still worship every Sunday. We still have ministries that coordinate mission and events. We still have coffee hour and Sunday School and choir. But for church staff (and maybe for some of our lay leaders), it's as if someone came into our house and rearranged all the furniture. The house looks the same on the outside, and one might not suspect that anything is different. But inside: the basket where we leave our keys is now by the other door. The drawer with the spoons is now by the toaster. The sofa is turned the other way.
Consequently, all those little actions that we used to do automatically and without thinking as we went about our day and focused on bigger issues - drop the keys, grab a spoon, sit on the couch - all those require mental effort now.
For pastors and church leaders, I think that many aspects of church now feel like a re-arranged house. So much of what we do is "the same", and yet: things are re-arranged just enough that the usual tasks require extra time and effort.
For example: communication!
When I started at West Parish six years ago, we did what most churches had been doing for decades: we mailed a monthly, paper newsletter. We transitioned to an emailed newsletter, and then when covid hit, we began our current 3-emails-a-week. At the start of the pandemic, this was necessary. Things were changing so fast that we needed to quickly send the schedule at the start of the week. We needed a mid-week connection with news. We needed to send Sunday's information at the last minute because often the video or music or bulletin wasn't finalized until Saturday night.
Recently, I began to feel that THREE emails every week was a lot! And now that we had worship all set by Thursday morning, perhaps we could send fewer emails, and reduce the clutter in your inboxes.
I wondered what others were doing and so I checked in with UCC colleagues: If email is your primary form of communication, how often and on what days do you communicate with your congregation? I heard from 20 other UCC pastors. Ten churches send two emails per week (Wed or Th news, and Fri or Sat worship info). And ten churches send only one email per week (ranged from Wed to Sat). Only one church sends any email on Sunday. Interesting!
So I decided that we'd try eliminating Sunday's email. Maybe some of us didn't notice. Maybe some of us liked it. But we heard from three of us who did not like it, so I asked for Governing Board's input... and the Board decided that we should keep the Sunday email, so we are back to "normal"!
To be clear: I share this story not because the frequency of our emails is the most pressing issue at West Parish Church (although communicating and staying connected IS crucial), but because it illustrates how there is no longer a playbook for how to do church communication, just like there's no playbook for how to do many aspects of church these days. Every congregation is inventing, adjusting, listening to feedback, and doing their best. But all that listening and adjusting does take time and energy!
I share this not as a complaint -- every pastor and church, and also many other professions and institutions, are going through similar re-arrangements. I share this experience so we might remain aware that we continue to navigate uncharted territory that requires extra energy of all of us.
So are you feeling tired? There is a reason! Many things are just harder to navigate right now, and we have been though a lot, and the news continues to put us all through the wringer.
Breathe, and simply do what you can. You are beloved by God not for what you DO, but because you are YOU.