Spiritual Growth in a Time of Pandemic

Spiritual Growth in a Time of Pandemic

I have found that my greatest spiritual growth has often occurred during dark nights of the spirit, brought about by personal and professional crises. In such times, I have realized that I needed to open to God’s grace, reach out to trusted friends and family, and deepen my spiritual life through prayer, meditation, and scripture. I experienced first-hand the wisdom of Psalm 139:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

“Leaning on the everlasting arms,” I discovered a deeper resiliency and found resources to withstand life’s challenges, grow spiritually, and actively claim my vocation as a humble companion in supporting God’s vision of healing the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our personal, professional, and congregational worlds upside down. What we could not imagine six weeks ago has become a daily reality. Our worlds have become physically constricted and our personal and professional contacts limited to phone calls, Zoom meetings, and email.  We balance our professional lives with care for children and grandchildren.

Still, much to our amazement, many of our congregants feel more connected than ever.  A handful of members of South Congregational Church meet daily for morning and afternoon prayer on Zoom.  I have truly gotten to know them through prayerful conversations.  Others have expressed their love for our congregation in ways I’d not heard before. 

We are discovering that deep spiritual connections can occur in a time of physical distancing. We are experiencing the power of prayer unify our spirits despite our apparent isolation.  This time of physical distancing may be a catalyst for congregational and personal spiritual transformation if we open to lessons learned in this time of pandemic.

The Sufi mystic Rumi asserted that there were a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.  There are surely an equal number of pathways toward spiritual and congregational transformation.  Let me share what I have learned since we chose to cancel traditional face-to-face programming beginning March 13.
  • The importance of regularly scheduled opportunities for group prayer.  At our church, a faithful handful show up daily for morning and afternoon prayer times and have spoken of these services as a spiritual and emotional anchor.
  • The importance of daily pastoral communication.  When the pandemic began, I chose to begin a daily reflection, sent out to the congregation’s membership electronically and by snail mail.  Members have remarked that they look forward to these communications as ways of spiritual centering and knowing they are part of a larger community.
  • Adult faith formation programs, live and interactive, have inspired conversations on theology, ethics, and spirituality related to the pandemic.
  • While each pastor’s approach is appropriate to their setting, I have found that live and interactive Sunday worship, with certain times set aside for a solo voice while others are muted, has fostered community, especially in terms of sharing prayer concerns and gratitude.
  • Mission matters during a time of pandemic.  Our congregation has chosen to reach out rather than retrench.  Instead of contributions for lilies, persons dedicated their usual gift to local ministries such as the food bank and persons in financial need.  Crises inspire rather than excuse us from mission to the community.
  • Theological reflection matters in a time of pandemic whether we talk about the role of science in the life faith or witness to an ever-present loving God, who seeks healing in contrast to the judgmental, punitive gods championed by many well-known pastors.
These have been challenging times for ministry.  Yet, in the storm, God’s light shines illuminating a path forward for ourselves and our congregations.  Beyond the pandemic, we may discover new pathways of ministry and mission if we are attentive to God’s vision in this time of crisis.
Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, UCC, Centerville, MA, and author of “Faith in a Time of Pandemic.” Here are two videos related to theology and spirituality in a time of pandemic .

Is the Pandemic God’s Judgment?

Faith After the Pandemic 


bruce epperly.jpg
Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, UCC, Centerville, MA, and author of “Faith in a Time of Pandemic".

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