I’ve been thinking all summer about being a pastor, especially as I continue to navigate the unknown for months on end now. Many have thought that I simply made these decisions and was left fine, but the truth is, I am not sure.
First, the decisions were about closing. Do I close the school as the governor ordered? Do I close the church, as he didn’t even ask? Who would be harmed either way? How do I control a virus? What would my life be like if someone got sick, or worse, died because of a decision that I made, or didn’t make? Then, the decisions came about reopening! Who needed us to reopen? What would parents do with their children if we chose – like so many other school – not to reopen, but they still needed to go to work? Who would come to Mass in a pandemic anyway? Or, were there others like me who desperately needed God now more than ever? Where would they go if not here? And, if we opened, how could we do so in the safest manner possible? What would it cost? How could we afford it when no one was coming for so long? How could we track, manage, and protect and still worship at the same time?
Of course, those were the public decisions so many now know I had to make as pastor of Saint Miriam. But there were those that many failed to realize that I needed to make, too, but that I was still faced with on a daily basis; these included, who would serve Mass? How would I keep my team safe? What of the sick, the injured, the dying, and the dead at hospitals and nursing centers? Would I instruct my priests and deacons to go to the very places where the virus was the most active; would I even go? Who would be quarantined and for how long?
Then came another plague to our parish life, too: the mental health crisis that came underneath it all. So many of our older parishioners especially were literally shut inside with no way for us to go visit, or touch, or hold them. It produced a mental health crisis not predicted, and still, truthfully, not handled. After all, how do you handle it when often the person can’t see they are ill to begin with?
And, there were those things that many folks don’t want to hear about, too! Like budgets and paying the mortgage, the light bill and insurance. How would we – how could we – survive when more than 25% or more of our income came on a Sunday basis when people came and dropped off their donations in person, but now, no longer could? How could we remain vital without income? Would people drop off or mail their checks to help us stay here? To remain…
Then there were furloughs and staffing and PPE gear expenses and virtual reality upgrades, not to mention the Sanctuary renovations and a new retreat center! Yes, these pastor moments were tough; they remain so. I wonder, what we will look like once a vaccine is found and people can return to whatever the normal will then look like? Will God still matter?
The power of these pastoral decisive moments are those none of us like, wish for, and sometimes run away from. These are the times in our lives when we actively must choose a particular path, and they require us to be brave and to believe. I know that I never have thought of myself as particularly brave, but at their root, these moments require just that, and we all want to be brave when it counts, to be the one who steps up, leans in, does the right thing, all when it matters most.
A pastoral moment for me ― one that we remember as having marked or defined us ― is often preceded by a long season of preparation and prayer that most never see or even think about. And when the moment passes, and the decisions have been made, and the adrenaline rush is over, we are left to live according to what we felt at the moment of decision. Right or wrong, we live with our decisions and pray we are somehow right.
The last few months, especially since mid-March, have been a bit like riding a wave. Like all waves, it has been all-consuming for a brief moment, and then, and here’s my point, the moment passed. As all such moments do, it passed and here we are, again, with only ourselves. Our God. Our life together.
I guess my bigger point with my blog today is that God has been with us. He never left not once. No, sadly, not in some ‘Moses strike that rock’ moment, but more subtly, consistently, calmly guiding our thoughts and actions in prayer and belief and because we stayed and believed in Him, Saint Miriam remains stable and alive and vital. Yes, we have adapted to the pandemic like many of you have personally at home, and dare I say, we have come to see a new us where things that were important, no longer are and people and relationships and commitment are the real stuff of our life together, and our connection with God.
For me, I have learned that everyone is needed; everyone has an important part to play, and an offering to make to our life at Saint Miriam. And while we grieve when some people choose to leave, most of us stay and pray and do what we are called to do: believe and remain in relationship with each other. Then, by our doing so, prayer is easier, we are kinder, changes hurt a little less, anxiety is reduced, and God still comes.
I am not a perfect man, and I am far from a perfect priest and leader, but I show up and I remain. I think it’s important to acknowledge that as we step up to the plate, we’ll miss more balls than we hit, but if we run away, we are left alone with ourselves and that is often harder than staying in the game itself.
Faithfully, imperfectly, in an ever-changing world in which we, too, are being changed is where we now live. So, I have TWO gifts for you today! The first is a prayer video for those who are unsure and even scared, and the other is video for parents who are praying about whether to, or how, to send their children back to school and to help their kids pray about it, too.
Please know that I am often scared, too. I pray that knowledge – and these gifts – help steady you until the world comes to a new day when we are gathered home again.
Please also know I am here for you. Saint Miriam is here for you. In person, virtually, in prayer, by phone, email, text or chat. We are here, because we are better together.