Impact of COVID-19 and vaccinations on Communities of Faith
Marijke Fakasiieiki, The Fig Tree's development director, surveyed rural congregations in the region and gathered stories for this summer issue on the impact of COVID and vaccinations on their ministries.
Pastor likens pandemic to a time of sabbath
The pandemic was like a sabbath.
It provided an opportunity for people in the congregation to slow down, reflect and think about their priorities in their lives and spiritual practices, said Steve van Kuiken, pastor Community Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC) in Pullman.
"In my congregation, some people really took advantage of that," he said. "The level of their engagement is heightened and they are now more engaged than in the past.
"Their spiritual path has been heightened by the pandemic. In a general sense, it almost has served as a year-long sabbath," he continued. "Some folks have been able to find a richness in that forced pause in their lives and opportunities to continue their spiritual search."
COVID impacted everything—all the in-person things they would do, including hosting homeless families in Family Promise. Such in-person ministries had to stop.
Community Congregational UCC did Zoom worship, trying to stay connected with each other that way.
They added a food pantry outdoors at their church for people to come by and take whatever they want.
Many activities were on hold or are in a holding pattern now, but none of them were closed.
"Sometimes the church emphasizes the journey outward, and emphasizes engagement. The pandemic established and reconnected us with our roots, a good root system from a spiritual perspective," said Steve.
"We are not human doings, but human beings. Spiritual activism that forgets to grow its roots is short lived," he pointed out. "From my perspective as a pastor, the pandemic has offered the opportunity to focus on the journey inward."
Steve estimates that a high percentage of the congregation are vaccinated—90 percent or more as of mid-May.
"We are pretty unanimous at this church that being vaccinated is an important thing to do, both for personal protection and for protection of the broader community," he said. "We share with each other and our friends the importance of vaccinations informally, but have had no formal role in that."
The church is moving to in-person worship in the summer.
They were able to meet in smaller groups according to restrictions, while still in Phase 2 in Whitman County.
"Some members are travelling now," he said of the opening of restrictions.
Having a heightened awareness of food security issues, the congregation established an food pantry outside the front doors of the church.
The church was aware and involved with homelessness on the Palouse before the pandemic. That hasn't changed that much, he said.
"There's also a heightened awareness of public health and importance of the safety net in our local community and broader community," Steve said.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, mJune, 2021