By the Rev. Steven Brackett, Assistant to the Bishop

It looks like we may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on the COVID-19 pandemic.  Responding to the pandemic has caused us to change the way we do so many things, and completely stop some of our normal activities.  As we emerge from the pandemic every ministry will be evaluating where we are and where we need to go. Some things may go back to “normal,” while some things will never be the same again.

One thing that was greatly affected by the pandemic was our synod call process. 

In the past, we usually received one or two Rostered Minister Profiles per week from pastors and deacons who had listed us as a synod of interest.  Once the pandemic lockdowns began that number dropped to zero.  That is not a surprise.  Pastors and deacons became so occupied with figuring out how to provide worship and ministries remotely that they had no time to consider moving to another call.  Others understood the difficulty that their departure during a pandemic would cause on their current call, and so put their mobility on hold.  Still others stopped seeking a new call because they understood how difficulty it would be to truly discern if they were being called to a new setting when they were unable to interview in-person or have a “normal” visit to the ministry site and the community.

In the Northeastern Iowa Synod, we did fill some calls just before and during the pandemic.  We also had some pastors depart for other calls, and others retire.  Unfortunately, we have more calls open now than we did before the pandemic.  And I fear that more of our pastors will leave calls because of difficulties they had in coming to agreement with leadership or members about how their ministry site should respond to the pandemic—especially in terms of restrictions.  As I write this, we have 30 congregations in the call process.  That number is likely to increase as some of our rostered ministers decide that the only way to recover from the difficulties of this pandemic is to leave and start fresh in another call.

My hope is that rostered ministers and congregations will decide to remain in ministry together.  For this to happen, some time will need to be set aside to have honest conversations about what went well in establishing worship and ministry protocols, and what did not go well. 

Where necessary, forgiveness should be sought and granted for the times when communication broke down, or unkind things were said, or when people let their anxiety or anger get the better of them during negotiations or implementation of protocols.

Following a crisis of any kind in a community, it is typical for clergy in the area to seek new calls shortly afterward.  While this was a global pandemic, it was experienced locally in each congregation.  The easy way for rostered ministers and people to move beyond such a crisis is to part ways. But often the better path for the sake of ministry is to work through the these difficult issues and remain in ministry together.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.