COVID-19 sparks ministry creativity

COVID-19 sparks ministry creativity

By Carol Schuck Scheiber, editor

Virtual meetings, discussions, and retreats have been mainstays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of NRVC—like people the world over—have experienced the pandemic restrictions in a variety of ways, both good and bad. Emotionally and practically, life has been harder for some and not particularly burdensome for others. In terms of work, most members report in a recent survey they have adapted to greater reliance on technology without too many bumps in the road. Some are enjoying newfound competence and success in ministering via virtual technology.

Emotional and spiritual ups and downs

Emotionally, our members have experienced a wide range of responses, each according to their individual circumstances and pressures.  Some have endured a ramped up and tiring workload, with additional caregiving, administrative, and fundraising duties. Grief and anxiety have hit some individuals hard because some have lost loved ones--family and community members and friends--to coronavirus or other illnesses, and social distancing makes funerals and mourning practices less satisfying. Many members miss hugs, handshakes, and the social contact of being with other people in real life. Furthermore, members are disturbed at the heightened level of the country’s social and racial injustices and the resulting unrest.

The pandemic has had a silver lining for some, as some members have enjoyed a lighter workload and additional time for prayer and self care (a great deal of time was freed up initially by travel restrictions and event cancellations). Some members find themselves coping with their COVID-19 lives with equanimity, knowing themselves to be less burdened than others. The communal social structure of religious life has freed many NRVC members of the burden of social isolation, although it has in some cases intensified difficult relationships.

Even though many members are unable to worship and celebrate the sacraments as they normally would, a large number report that faith and prayer has been a fortress from which they’ve drawn strength. A number have even reported better balance in work-prayer-community time.

New forms of ministry

Although the pandemic has psychologically impacted NRVC members in widely different ways, members agree on one truism: human encounter, free of technology, is the ideal way to establish and nurture relationships of all types, including those cultivated in vocation ministry. Many members report that they’re glad to have phoning, texting, video-conferencing, etc., but screen-free human contact is better. They find it more informative, energizing, and lifegiving. With virtual contact at an all time high and much human contact happening from a six-foot distance (at best), NRVC members, like many others, fiercely miss real human contact.

Nonetheless, vocation ministers have revealed that they are adaptable and creative. Many are trying new techniques.  Members now rely more heavily than ever on technology-assisted connections with discerners and co-workers. Even with its limits, the forced move to technology has allowed many NRVC  members to have broader and more frequent connection than otherwise would be possible. Some say that attendance at virtual events seems to have been larger than if the events had been in person. This finding may encourage many to keep using virtual technology after the pandemic in order to make contact with inquirers, discerners, pre-postulants, and others more affordable and less time consuming for those considering religious life.

NRVC members report using all the alternative forms of connection at their disposal to make contact with women and men inquirers and discerners.

Tips for carrying on

• Network with NRVC members:  you may have a local expert! Most regions have multiple members who are adept at using technology. Don’t be shy about asking your member area coordinators for suggestions about who might be able to provide knowhow on things like socially distanced assessments, video-conference retreats, Zoom meetings with discerners, etc. The member area coordinators have met many of the members in their geographic area and can likely share with you names and contact information as well as their own wisdom on many topics. A members-only list of member area coordinators and details of member gatherings is at:

Use online learning to educate yourself about technology. Search YouTube using different keywords until you find helpful materials. Remember, some posts are made by professionals and others have been made by amateurs. In any case, you may find visual, step-by-step answers about exactly what you need.  For sustained training, you may want to see if your library offers free online courses about video-conferencing (or a host of other topics) through a provider such as

Focus on possibilities, and attend to the needs of young people. Members who offered tips for coping with coronavirus ministry repeated the need to focus on what CAN be done and to be open to innovation and creative solutions to problems  One of the most common types of advice is to do whatever possible to maintain relationships with young adults and other contacts. Many vocation ministers noted that they were forced to go outside their comfort zone and use techniques and technologies that they are not drawn to. “Be creative and think outside the box.  Talk to young adults about what they desire. Be willing to be uncomfortable and try new things!” Another wrote: “Engage with young adults even if they aren’t explicitly thinking about religious life. They are looking for ways to connect to a church they love. They are looking to connect with one another.”

§ § § § §

The COVID-19 season of our lives and ministry will last for an undetermined length of time. A great deal about the virus and its impact is simply unknown. We don’t know when a vaccine will be available. We don’t know if a additional “waves” of infections will happen. Through it all, vocation ministers work, pray, listen, unite, and hope.  

It’s a good time to remember the words of Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., who knew something about the persevering spirit of so many NRVC members: “Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But if each one would light a candle, we'd have a tremendous light.”

Published on: 2020-06-26

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