The Toll

On a Saturday early in September, I got the call that the church matriarch was gravely ill.  On Sunday, I went to the hospital to see her and to be with her family.  On Monday, I was on the phone with one of her daughters, who shared with me that her mother had died overnight.

The feelings flooded in—sadness; grief; shock; gratitude that I had known her for so long; frustration, that she had died during this difficult time.  

And, truth be told, resentment.

That weekend was supposed to be a weekend off for me, and my first Sunday off in almost a year.  The vacations that I had planned for this summer were cancelled.  I managed a few days away, with my husband and son, in August, but that was during the week.  It was nice to get away, but it was hardly a vacation.

Because of how we are organizing worship during this COVID time, it is difficult  to hand over worship to someone else especially a lay leader.  Getting so many on Zoom has been wonderful, and surprising.   Trying to move one or two beyond attending Zoom worship and into the management of a Zoom worship service, well that’s another story entirely.  Since opportunities to go somewhere ended up going nowhere, I’ve continued to work and lead worship.  After all,  at the start of all of this, it seemed that our online worship experience would last only a couple of months, a few at most.

Of course, the reality of the pandemic has been different.  It has gone on much longer than we thought.  And, although I live in an area with no community transmission, Old South is an older congregation and we have decided that we must be cautious.  Online worship has been going on since mid-March.

Now that I’ve recently observed the anniversary of my last “real” vacation (a full week out of the country last September), I’m starting to realize the toll the pandemic has taken.  Already lacking in the patience department, I feel that I’m even less patient, so much quicker to anger.  I feel edgy and restless. 

And, more than that, I’m starting to wonder about the toll on my worship leadership, and on our community as a whole.  Worship leadership has always been, for me, a communal experience.  There’s something about being in a room with “one’s people” and being able to interact with the congregation, to be able to look into people’s eyes during sacraments and during sermons, to ask questions, to invite responses, to enjoy the spontaneous moments of laughter or the collective silence of a group of people all feeling the wonder of the presence of the Spirit.

Now, worship leadership involves standing in my living room, behind a table I’ve made into an altar, with my husband on the couch managing the “show.”  I’m not in front of the monitor, so I can’t even see the faces of those who are in attendance.  Do they laugh at my jokes?  Do they look bored when I come to the big point?  Do they look confused when I try to describe a significant theological concept?  Do they appear to get what I’m trying to say?  Do they experience any sense of the holy?

The Toll.  The whole thing is taking a toll—on me, on the church, on our pastor/congregation relationship. 

I can appreciate that during this time that I (and we) have learned important things, that we are capable of more than we thought.  I can also appreciate that our struggles, and certainly my struggles, are small compared to what others are experiencing.

Still, there’s a toll.  There’s a downside.  The extent of the toll and the severity of the downside are, of course, not fully known.  But, I wonder.  A lot.  Will the good things outweigh the bad things?  Or will it be the other way around?  Will we find our way through this tumultuous experience, or will we discover that it’s just too much to bear?   And, for me, will I find a new way to experience Sabbath, so that I never again feel resentment when the phone rings and someone shares with me the sad news of a death?  Time to flex, yet again, those muscles of creativity.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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