Covid Survey Results, Continued

Covid Survey Results, Continued


Word cloud created from most frequently encountered words from the survey. The larger the word appears, the more often it occurred.

We received nearly 300 responses to our survey.  It represents nearly 45% of our congregations. They have responded to over a dozen questions. And they have shared many comments, insights and ideas. Your Conference staff is reviewing the survey to glean insights that we can share and themes that can help us plan resourcing and support. This article focuses on question #12.

Q12 HOW ARE YOU - It’s been nearly half a year into the pandemic, please tell us what lessons and insights you have learned and would like to pass along. (Answered: 247; Skipped: 25)

Here, in order, is a summary of the most common comments: 

  • By far, the biggest learning has been how to live stream and/or pre-record Sunday worship.
  • The most common word or phrase was “I’m exhausted". It was expressed at the mental, physical and soul level.  People are putting in more hours than ever before. Worship service planning requires more creative input and time.
  • Nearly as common as ‘exhausted’ was some version of ‘exhilarated’. This year has offered an opportunity to learn new skills and exercise creativity.
  • Managing the stress, grief, anxiety is challenging for self and others.
  • Our congregation has appreciated my efforts and has been adapting. I am grateful for supportive church leadership and congregation.
  • People are engaged with one another in surprising ways that feel relational and meaningful, even if they can’t meet in person.
  • Our worship service is connecting online with more people, mostly distant friends and family, and some new folks checking us out and staying.
  • We are grateful for Conference support, guidance and resources.
  • Prayer is essential. Always turning to God first... not a new thing but worth repeating.
  • Our church members have enjoyed and appreciated mid-week fellowship and programs that we are creating.
  • Being intentional about time to renew with rest and making time for friendships is increasingly essential. 
  • Have appreciated a colleague's reminder that the church needs to focus on purpose right now. What is the church being called to do and be in this time and beyond?
  • Stay attentive, adaptable and flexible.
  • I especially appreciate the weekly meetings set up by regional Conference staff.  The collegiality, support and sharing of ideas has been crucial.   
  • That not even a pandemic can alter pre-COVID personality and power dysfunctions within congregation.
  • Virtual Coffee Hour is an important exchange of ideas and personal sharing.
  • Feeling the pain of isolation and physical distancing. 
Here are some of the quotes from folks offering insights and reactions: 
  1. I have never worked harder and I'm not new to ministry. However, the opportunity to reach more people through online services has gotten my creative interest. It feels like we are reaching a whole new audience.
  2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, while trying to keep in mind how much worse things might be with one or two genetic mutations. Remind ourselves and one another just how lucky we are.
  3. We are developing ways to offer membership in the church to people who are worshiping regularly with us via live-stream. It will change the definition of "membership," but our Deacons unanimously felt it was important to be inclusive and open to new ways of being church. The inability to have memorial services has been the hardest thing for people who have lost loved ones. Grief is much more difficult in semi-isolation. Also I am seeing more depression, loneliness, anxiety, and fear - not only because of the pandemic, but because of the stressful times we are in as a nation. But this is why I believe the church is extremely important, and why we are maintaining a visible and public presence. We have put up large banners facing adjacent main streets offering our support and welcome, as well as our website address for live-streaming.
  4. Church must extend hope and comfort, not fuel fear.
  5. Thanks to the SNEUCC and UCC for helping churches with the needed education and how to hone our skills in an atmosphere of scriptural setting. I can't say enough for the assurances and encouraging support of the Conference Bridge Ministers and staff. Investing in time and energy has paid off, so to speak.
  6. Life and ministry feel like riding a roller coaster as there have been some wonderful highs but often followed by unforeseen difficulties
  7. Flexibility is the key. Some are comfortable with on-line worship, many are not. We need to do both to maintain our church family.
  8. Pivot, try, pivot again, stay in touch with people.
  9. More stressful. As a new interim, it's been more difficult to feel out the nuances in people's relationship to the church and prior minister. Also visiting is harder. I would have had an all congregation meeting this fall to help discuss past and plan for future. Still figuring out the best alternative.
  10. As a clergy person, it is so important to stay centered in my relationship with Jesus through spiritual disciplines. Also, so important to meet with community of practice. And, in relating to others, it is so important to give and receive grace, as we are all stressed.
  11. Every day brings new challenges and new insights, but we are doing okay.
  12. This is a very strange time indeed, but there are silver linings to Zoom worship. More people than usual are joining us, even from other locales, and since my congregation is seasonal, we expect to see our summer friends once in a while over the winter. Our seniors who are hard of hearing can hear better on Zoom, and as long as they have a family member to set them up on Sundays, they are present. I also utilize the break-out group feature in zoom right after the sermon to encourage interaction that can't take place otherwise. For years now we in the church have been praying to have more relevance in the world. God has answered by forcing us to shut our doors and be present in cyber space. Let's make the most of it! God's ways are higher than our ways!
  13. Patience. Hold true to the safety and well being of all. While we miss being with one another in person, even folks who were tech-challenged at first have commented on how this shift to online worship has enabled us to connect in different ways and has actually freed the church of some of its older no-longer-useful habits.
  14. It has been a great opportunity, because no one can say, "we never did it that way before" or "we tried that and it didn't work", because none of us have done anything like this before! It has been truly life-giving.
  15. All that being said, it is a blessing to be a pastor in this time. The opportunity to help is tremendous. The growth in our community support has been time consuming for many people but so worthwhile as we see not just the physical benefit of feeding people, but the hope and joy it gives not just to those taking the meals, and not just to those making and serving them, but to the larger community just seeing the church doing this much work, caring this much, in a time they see so little compassion at the national level - including from many churches. Having the opportunity to be a vocal and active participant in anti-racism activities has been powerful as well. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
  16. Also, doing in person church well is one thing. Doing virtual church well is another. Doing in-person church well so you still have an excellent on-line /virtual church presence? THAT is exponentially more challenging.
  17. Part of what is involved is learning to accept limitations, being open and honest with the congregation about these limitations, setting a vision that helps us to see what will be possible in the future if we adapt in the present, and then focusing on the most vulnerable and isolated in the community.
  18. Flexibility is key as is patience with yourself and the congregation. Don't be afraid to take down time when you need it. Do what you know to be the best thing for your congregation as you understand and know them. Don't try to replicate what was before in worship or administration or board work, etc. Use this as an opportunity to encourage creativity and leadership in the congregation. Involve boards and committees in planning and thinking through things from the start rather than deciding on what to do yourself and working to convince people. Listen to your people. Pray constantly.
  19. We have benefited from having folks join our worship from all over the country, including Hawaii and on occasion Ghana. Also for those with hearing challenges Zoom has worked really well.
  20. Adopt a sense of humor. Learn ways to meditate. Get outside twice a day. Be patient.
  21. I've been preaching for years about how the two gifts that we can offer each other as we live in community are flexibility and grace.
  22. This has been a challenging year. Our community has been very supportive of church staff but this disaster has taken a toll. We have worked to provide support and clear sabbath rest for all our staff.
  23. We have learned that people miss in-person church tremendously, but few will actually attend.
  24. I've learned that online services require about five times more weekly work than ones held in the Sanctuary; I've learned that church members can really put their shoulders to the wheel to keep things going; I've learned that I am not invincible when it comes to handling my own stress; I've learned that I need to have my own reserves of hope strengthened, but other than prayer and walks outside, I'm not sure where from.
Here are some quotes from folks offering ideas and resources:
  1. The importance of spiritual direction - I meet with my director every 3 weeks (at the outset of the pandemic we met every other week but now I feel a bit calmer so we've spaced out our meetings a bit). I have learned so much during this pandemic - about God's faithfulness, about scripture which I now hear very differently based on our circumstances, about being flexible, about the importance of fellowship and how much people miss being together.  
  2. Lessons: Adapt, adapt, adapt. Create new opportunities for people to gather in small groups (e.g. lunch on the lawn...small-group Bible more than 5 people sitting 10 feet apart. Masks.) Get people doing something to help others. For example, we created a meal program where we make meals and deliver to seniors.
  3. Ah...the list is long. Learning and growing is good. Prayer, deep breathing, and perspective are critical to maintaining a non-anxious, hopeful perspective. It's important to have a wailing wall.  Covenantal partnerships are life-giving. People have a limited amount of emotional bandwidth, making interim ministry a challenge in this pandemic season. It's important to pivot and recalibrate, so that survivalism doesn't hold our focus captive. God's ability to turn our mourning into joy is boundless.
  4. Our drive-in worship ends Nov 1. This has been a boost and invite to creativity. The pandemic offers opportunities for creative change. 
  5. The Monday after our first virtual service (March 16th), I went live at 9 PM for a brief prayer service, ending in the Lord's Prayer. Since that night we have not missed one day - the Deacons lead it mostly (I only lead it once a week). Being able to pray together on a daily basis has meant everything to us.
  6. We also now use pre-packaged (pre-sealed) Holy Communion kits that work very well (can be purchased inexpensively on Amazon). We plan to continue using these communion kits even after the pandemic because they are so hygienic. We also do care packages. I think the key is finding ways to stay in touch with your congregation even if you cannot be together in-person.
  7. Another fun thing that has emerged is what we have come to call “the Birthday Brigade.” A couple church members who are in the category of having lots of time on their hands have taken the church birthday list and now go the house of the person celebrating a birthday and, from a distance, sing and celebrate. Some days they are visiting 4-5 different houses! If the person is not local, they video record it and send them a copy. Pictures of the birthday brigade visits show up during our postlude each week in worship.
  8. Valarie Kaur’s SEE NO STRANGER: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, has been an invaluable resource... the inspiration for a 7-part summer worship series and a 10-part adult education series continuing now... Listening a current 7-part worship series...leading to our election and more...
  9. Sustain and develop friendships outside of church. Demands of ministry are significantly increased by COVID, and must not become a 24/7 arrangement.
  10. Daily meditation through the InsightTimer app has been has yoga, hikes, time with family etc. etc.
  11. We realize the people are in need of fellowship, of getting together in person, and Zoom is not really filling the void. Therefore we have now had two drive-by parades, past the homes of a few of our seniors. The number of participants has been exciting, appropriately distant, faces covered, and yet has met some of the fellowship need.
  12. We will begin an experiment with Forest Sunday school this month. Social isolation for seniors has led to loneliness and depression, so we have started an outdoor weekly walking meditation group and neighborhood outdoor brown bag lunches and dinners, in addition to weekly BLM vigils at "drive time" on Friday evenings on the town common.
  13. Try as many adaptive programs and ministries as possible. If it works, great. If not, no worries. Be flexible - strike a balance between no risk and high risk - need to find ways to meet spiritual needs of members and friends beyond the virtual. Create a "Reopening" Committee to coordinate all COVID building and in-person questions. Pray like heck. Do what you can and give God the rest.
  14. My Deacons and Pastoral Advisory Group (PPRC) have really pushed me to take my days off and vacation time and bless them for that, has made a huge difference in my initial fatigue level during the pandemic.
  15. Congregants who are professionals have become weary of online anything - so we acquired a low wattage FM transmitter and started drive-in services in our parking lot 4-weeks ago and simulcast along with Zoom to good feedback.
  16. We have added a Wednesday evening vespers prayer and reflection on Facebook Live and Tuesdays in the Garden, which are short segments filmed in members’ gardens, and Saturday morning stories for the kids. This is all very low tech, we just do use iPhones and do our own filming, and that seems to be part of the charm.
  17. Meditation and exercise have been invaluable in keeping sane. In addition, we are using many suggestions and techniques from Kathy Santos' "Happiness Lab" podcast.
  18.  Just a tip: use blue painters tape to mark off pews. Easily visible and won’t damage wood.


Don H. Remick

Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.

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