Nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life as we know it, church leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other denominations are still dealing with the unknown. While government and health officials scramble to vaccinate millions, new variations of the virus continue to be found in parts of the world.

Some churches have been forced to close permanently, while others have found new ways through technolgy to reach members who hadn’t been reached in years.

Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly recently launched the first in a series of online forums to help presbytery leaders, pastors and congregations navigate through this season of the unknown. The first session, titled “COM: The Ministry of Caring,” was held last week. The Committee on Ministry (COM) is assigned the task of supporting congregations and presbytery members in all aspects of their ministry.

“We know we can’t travel to locations and meet personally with congregations and hold these important conversations,” said the Rev. Manuel Silva-Esterrich, manager for Call Process Support in the Office of the General Assembly. “I’m hoping these virtual interactions are the spark to a fire of conversations within each presbytery and their congregations.”

During the session on Feb. 4, attendees heard from mid council leaders Rhonda Kruse, transitional presbyter of Lehigh Presbytery in Eastern Pennsylvania; Bill McLean, presbyter for Congregational Care in the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois; and Brad Carloss, stated clerk for the Presbytery of Northern Waters in Wisconsin. Each shared the process of how their presbyteries and COMs are working to support their congregations during this time.

Silva-Esterrich says the stresses and struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in long hard conversations in churches across the denomination.

“We’re hearing about economic issues that led to the dissolution of pastoral relationships, the difficulty of attracting pastoral candidates due to their localization, and virtual and technical abilities that could provide a new perspective of worshiping and meeting,” he said. “Members aren’t able to do what they once did, and membership has gone down due to health problems.”

Other sessions are planned, such as one on Feb. 18 titled “Caring for Congregations and Equipping Leaders for Ministries of Faith Formation.” Silva-Esterrich says leaders will share new ideas to help church leadership with Christian education formation and share new ideas for ordained ministers’ continued education.

“We will host another one in May that will address the pastoral care for pastors and their families who are brought to the U.S. to work in our congregations,” he said. “Further down the road, we will talk more about Commissioned Ruling Elders and their importance during these times.”

Click here to register for the Feb. 18 session.