“Will families ever come back?”

“Will families ever come back?”

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Clergy and faith formation leaders have been wrestling with this question throughout the pandemic.  The disruption of regular routines and ways of gathering has profoundly impacted our churches. During the last twenty-three months, programs and worship services moved outdoors, then to virtual platforms, on to hybrid, and then back.   Plans that were dreamed and initiated with enthusiasm often had to be modified or even scrapped as infection rates climbed.

Our faith formation leaders have shown amazing resourcefulness and creativity during this time.  You have held zoom gatherings that ranged from fun and silly to prayerful and sacred.  You made doorstep visits, complete with deliveries of Lent-in-a-bag or Advent treats. You sent out “thinking of you” emails, texts, and snail mail.  You organized outdoor movie nights, hikes and campfires, and even al fresco Christmas Pageants, all as a way to share the love of God.

Still, we struggle with how to build relationships and make personal connections when contact is so limited.  The reality is that routines have been upended and that includes church-going practices.  Things are not the same.  We wonder, will they ever come back? What does Faith Formation look like in post-pandemic era?

Let us remind ourselves that families have been under enormous pressure. Parents are juggling changes in work, school, and caregiving schedules.  There is tremendous worry about the health and safety of their loved ones. 

So perhaps our response is to stop asking the question, and simply love them where they are. 

Gathering or connecting? We have long held an “attractional model” of ministry.  If you are familiar with the work of community organizers, you know that they reach out to folks instead of waiting for them to show up.  Plan a walk, coffee break, or phone call with a parent. Ask how they are doing, listen to their hopes and struggles, and see how the church can provide support.  Perhaps our calling right now is to accompany our families and offer them a compassionate ear.
 
Authors Joy Skjegstad and Heidi Unruh have some great suggestions in their new book Real Connections: Ministries to Strengthen Church and Community Relationships. They offer practical suggestions for building meaningful, caring connections that address the loneliness and divisions in our society, and even within churches.
 
Teaching or equipping?  Many of us are experimenting with playlists and on-demand resources.   We know that our culture values ready access, and this can be a lesson for how we deliver spiritual enrichment.  We can share uplifting stories, music, and prayers that can be used at a convenient time in a family setting.  We can equip parents and caregivers to partner with us to respond to teachable moments and create experiences—a mealtime grace, a conversation in the car, or a sabbath ritual to welcome the Spirit's presence.

Faith formation can take place anywhere and we as spiritual leaders can nurture meaningful relationships even we are apart.  What would it look like were we to set aside the worry about attendance numbers and be open to other ways to listen and connect? Let us care for our families wherever they are and invest in relationships during this Lenten season.  Take a breath, remember that God walks with us, and pray for patience.
 
Prayer for Patience (from Traci Smith: Faithful Families for Lent, Easter, and Resurrection)
We wait with patience to learn what new things God might teach us in this season.  Sometimes patience means waiting.  Sometimes patience means listening. Sometimes patience means asking questions.  God, please help us understand what patience means this season.
 
 

Author

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Debby D. Kirk

Debby Kirk is the Faith Formation Team Leader of the Southern New England Conference.  She serves on the Faith Formation Team and oversees the Youth and Young Adult Ministries programs of the Conference. She organizes leadership development programs ...

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