A Stay-at-Home Pastor? Are you kidding? (2020)

Pastor Randy Brandt’s thoughts on being a pastor during the COVID-19 Crisis (2020)

What if a seminary professor, seeking serious thought and discussion, posed this question: “Imagine you are serving a congregation when all of a sudden you had to continue being pastor to that church, but no one is able leave their homes, including you!”

“Good Heavens, professor! That is completely absurd!” And yet, here we are. These last twelve weeks have become a real-time laboratory of living out the answer to that question.

So, what does “being a pastor” mean when we aren’t gathering for worship, meeting with volunteers, enjoying pizza on Wednesday nights with choirs practicing and confirmation groups meeting, seeing all of the kids and families on Sunday for GodZone, catching up with friends over coffee in the Great Hall, participating in Bible studies, quilting, having speakers and potlucks, hosting support groups, or visiting the sick?

Well, obviously, it has not been pastoring as I have ever known it; while at the same time, almost everything has been exactly the same. Let me explain.

When I first started ministry as a pastor in Rochester, MN, I was vividly aware of my “Letter of Call,” the official document which described my responsibilities. The bullet points are still the same, and help me remember the priorities of being a Lutheran pastor:

  • to preach and teach the Word of God
  • to administer Holy Baptism and Holy Communion
  • to lead the congregation in worship
  • to proclaim the forgiveness of sins
  • to provide pastoral care
  • to speak for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed
  • to encourage persons to prepare for the ministry of the Gospel
  • to support the work of the ELCA and mission of the church in the world
  • to equip people for witness of proclaiming God’s love through word and deed

On March 12, when SOTV leadership was in robust deliberation on how to respond to the escalating threat of COVID-19, we found unity in making decisions which prioritized loving care for neighbor. That led us to close the SOTV building to all programing. That choice never meant any of the priorities for Christian ministry would cease!

The Stay-At-Home order for public safety did not stop our church from worshipping; instead, we have worked hard to have all the elements of significant worship available through online, electronic media. It has been strange preaching to a video camera in an empty sanctuary (I don’t wait for the congregation to laugh at my sermon jokes!). I still prayerfully take hours to hone a message I sense the Holy Spirit has for me and those who will hear it.

Significantly, it hasn’t been possible to visit people in person in the hospital, in hospice care, those who are grieving, or those in need of prayer. Instead, we have tried to be even more alert to discover the care needs of the congregation, and then pray more on the phone or in video conversations, sending emails, cards, and even text messages with bible verses, prayers, and blessings.

Finally, one surprise for me has been the number of regular devotional and bible teachings that are being offered. My long-planned Bible study on the miracles of Jesus quickly morphed into a live, online “Zoom” bible study where 25 people joined in deep examination of scripture, conversation, and prayer. In addition, we pastors have offered Wednesday evening Bible studies and daily coffee break devotional chats. Some members have commented that they have seen and heard from the SOTV pastors more often during the last weeks than ever before!

I could share so much more about how the changes of work have been very challenging, tiring, and requiring innovative creativity. But, I also know in my heart, that is how God’s Holy Spirit works. God uses every new life situation to work in fresh ways to provide everything that God’s people need. As a pastor of SOTV during this time I still strive to love and care for people; to give inspiration and guidance to live by faith and be witnesses of God’s love; to offer the comfort, care, and hope of Jesus to all in time of need.

So, while so much has changed, much has stayed the same. The daily prayer of your pastors is that no matter what, we will strive to be faithful to the call of God and the responsibilities which SOTV presented to us. We will preach, teach, listen, comfort, encourage, pray, witness, and love in the name of Jesus Christ.