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We Are Not All Having the Same Experience: Clergywomen with Children and Covid-19

Several days ago John Dobbs wrote an article entitled “The Coming Pastoral Crash.” Clearly this piece speaks to some deep truths that many are experiencing because it has already been shared by a number of clergypeople with whom I am friends with on Facebook.

You can read the full piece for yourself here.

I don’t know John Dobbs but I suspect that my theological tradition is very different from his tradition. That being said, I think he makes a number of excellent points but also leaves out some crucial parts of what some of us are experiencing.

Dobbs points to the fact that many are doing ministry in entirely new ways, ways that we are not trained or fully equipped to do. He highlights the fact that not gathering together in person does not mean that we are not working just as much (or more) then we did back in March.  We not only lack the training for this new way of ministry but we also may lack the electronic equipment to do it well and with ease. Again and again, I hear stories of my clergy colleagues making do with smartphones or tablets, make-shift tripods and unreliable internet connections. When Zoom went down a week ago on Sunday a huge number of my clergy colleagues had to desperately search for fixes, or start recording worship to post later, or switch to an entirely new platform. It was a stressful day for them and required an extreme amount of work. This has been the story of the pandemic, especially for smaller or less wealthy congregations. Clergy are trying to Macgyver engaging digital worship experiences and religious education opportunities armed only with a spork, an elderly laptop and grit. I see the emotional strain of this in many of my colleagues.

Dobbs also points out that many previous work boundaries have not been maintained during this time of crisis. Many clergy are finding it impossible now to take days off, vacations, Sundays off and are working at all times of night and day. Although I entirely agree with Dobbs on this point, I think he misses something significant: clergymen are not having the same experience during this pandemic as clergywomen with children.

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The Lonesome Valley of Birthing this Holy Week

New life is coming into a sick and suffering world for me this Easter, just as it did that first Easter. As I sat reclined in the dim monitoring closet of my OBGYN’s office listening to the heartbeat of the new life growing inside me, I realized I was beginning to understand Holy Week in a deeper way. I feel my feet matching the footprints of Jesus as he made his way to the Holy city for the last time. My child is due to arrive just after Easter, and so this Holy Week I walk the lonesome valley of doctor’s visits, ultrasounds, and monitoring alone; even my husband is not permitted to join me. The virus has turned our world inside out and this joyous time into a time of great fear and sorrow.

Fetal heart monitoring

Last week, I felt resolved to let go of my visions for birth and instead just show up when it was time to do what I must. “We’ll just do what we have to do,” became my mantra every time a new worrying arose. But as I sat in a mostly deserted waiting room on Monday of Holy Week with my N95 mask on, I struggled to breathe and couldn’t help imagining what trying to breathe through contractions would be like with a mask on. Breathing got harder and by the time the nurse took my blood pressure things did not look good. As I reclined hooked up to the fetal heartbeat monitor, I wondered if Jesus had a similar resolve that he then lost. Palm Sunday’s mantra could have sounded like mine: “Just get to the city and do what you have to do.” But of course, just a few verses later in John 12:27, we hear Jesus is “deeply troubled.” Having defiantly removed my mask to breathe easier and hopefully lower my blood pressure, I feel some comfort at the thought that perhaps Jesus waffled a bit this week too. He showed such grace in getting in his last lectures and final blessings, and then in the garden he prays for any other way. I totally get it, Jesus. If there is any other way, I’d love to hear it too. But we both know there isn’t. The only way to new life is through death. The only way to bring this new life into the world is by entering the halls of death, risking, fearing, and hopefully, eventually trusting God will bring us out again. Knowing you’ve been through it already helps for sure, but I’m most appreciative to know you had moments of doubt and fear too.

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