Pastoral Care During This Pandemic

By Carlton Elliott Smith

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused us to radically rethink the ways in which we do congregational life as Unitarian Universalists. While some of us believe in the power of prayer, we overwhelmingly value education, science and empirical evidence as the basis of how we conduct our lives from day to day as we seek to flatten the curve and reduce contagion.

Pastoral care among us up to this point could have been described as “up close and personal.” We characterize it as being with someone as they face life’s challenges, pains and losses.

This kind of looking after each other happens whether a congregation is served by a minister or not. In what we sometimes call the “priesthood of all believers,” any person can lovingly enter into that role if another is open to receiving from them in that way.

Now in my 25th year of ordained ministry, I have had the privilege of being a pastoral care provider more times than I can count, at bedsides in clinical settings or in homes, in church offices, at fellowship hour following services, or over coffee during the week. The work of pastoral care is not about giving advice, but rather listening and being present for whatever the person being cared for is saying or feeling. Sometimes that has included consensual touch, such as holding hands or a gentle hug. Sometimes it has included conversations much closer in than the six-foot radius we seek to maintain around ourselves at all times now.

So what does pastoral care look like now that we being inside each other’s personal space can cause much more harm than good?

We members of your UUA’s Congregational Life Staff Group collaborated to develop a list of online pastoral care possibilities for your consideration. They include creating a midweek spiritual opportunity via conference call, Zoom, or other platform; reaching out to healthcare professionals; starting a buddy system; establishing a weekly phone tree, and connecting members and friends across generations. You can find additional helpful resources on the UUA’s Covid-19 Response web pages.

As always, we as your UUA Southern Region team are here to coach, connect, companion and challenge you as you seek to become your best expression of a Unitarian Universalist community in your context. We look forward to an on-going partnership with each of you so that we can continue to learn from, and support, each other. We appreciate your faithfulness, which allows us to do the work we do on behalf of our living tradition and our shared values.

In faith,


About the Author

Carlton Elliott Smith

Rev. Carlton E. Smith is the Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region. From 2013 to 2020, he was a member of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group serving in the Southern Region....

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