There are so many things that we never had to think about before, that we are all having to think about now. And feel about now. In our professional lives, in our personal lives, and in our religious lives, our patterns have been upended, and whether we like it or not we are having to think and feel in ways we have not had to before.
We see that in how we are coming together as religious community, through online worship, Zoom Covenant Groups, virtual coffee hour. We are thinking about how hymns will sound over tinny computer speakers, how we pass a “virtual” talking object in a small group ministry, how we provide pastoral care to someone who is isolated in their home, not knowing if they have this virus or not, and afraid to even hug their loved ones. Because so many of our assumptions have changed about the “how” of religious community, if not what religious community is and what our Living Tradition means in our lives. And perhaps, even those assumptions about who and what we are as a faith community are changing a bit in ways that will help us to deepen and to grow.
For congregational staff members, core aspects of how they understand their ministries and roles have changed and continue to change. The same is true for congregational leaders. How do you manage an online Annual Meeting? How do you conduct the annual stewardship canvass, when you cannot take anyone out for coffee to talk about their giving? How do you bring people together to speak about the conflict between members in a faith filled way, when you have to do so on a teleconference system?
What I want you to know is that your Regional Staff is here to help you puzzle through these questions, because we are puzzling through the same questions ourselves. Through our transitioning to a virtual Regional Assembly, or bringing congregational leaders and religious professionals together in small online groups, or re-understanding the Annual Program Fund, or helping congregations to engage conflict well in this online environment, all of our assumptions about what our ministry is and how the MidAmerica Region operates have been challenged, upended, and are reforming into a new version of normal. And perhaps not a temporary version of normal.
One of the assumptions that we have had to address as a Regional Staff is how our operations would change were one of us, namely me, were suddenly not available. Besides serving as your Regional Lead, I am also a U.S. Army Reserve Hospital Chaplain, and my Combat Support Hospital is currently on standby alert for possible deployment to assist in the response to this pandemic. We have developed a plan for what would happen for the Regional Staff if I am activated and deployed. One of the blessings of the MidAmerica Regional Staff is that there is nothing I do that they cannot accomplish without me, especially as Jessica York, the Director of Congregational Life, would step in as the Acting Regional Lead for the MidAmerica Region.
I am not unique in this. All of our UUA Staff are looking at the places where there is only one person who knows how to do something essential, and we are making plans for how to help others be prepared for those roles. Because the circumstances of this pandemic mean any of us could become suddenly need to step away from our roles and responsibilities. I believe our congregations need to be asking the same questions. Are there essential things that only one or a few people know how to do? How can those responsibilities be shared?
It is a great comfort to me to know that if I had to leave on very short notice, the MidAmerica Regional Staff team have a plan in place to continue to provide support and services to our congregations. I believe that having such planning in place for congregations would be a blessing as well.