By Reverend E Wendy Huber
When COVID-19 emerged in our resort area of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, it arrived with a vengeance. At the beginning of Spring Break, many people traveled here from all over the world to ski. Sadly this meant exposure to COVID-19 was rapid and sent us home with little or no warning. We went from moving about the community freely to locking down our buildings and “hiding” in our homes. After nearly five months of “televangelism” using a YouTube Channel for St Peters of the Valley, we are exploring safe methods to gather in small groups in the winter months.
Three lessons I learned about taking care of people
We have learned a lot from “Zoom.” Fatigue is real. Isolation exacerbates depression and other mental illnesses. The following three lessons, in no particular order, are at the forefront.
1. Leaders are people too, and need others in their lives–isolation is not healthy for anyone. In our church, we had to consider ways to care for one another and not be physically present. We started nearly daily Zoom contact with one another for noonday prayer or compline (nighttime prayer). In that moment of gathering, we recognized how powerful it was to see each other’s faces and share lives. We began to spend much of our time sharing the day and then praying together. This contact has helped everyone, including this leader, to stay grounded and connected with others.
2. Vulnerability in leaders is not a weakness. As a spiritual leader, we must manage the impression people sometimes have that we are somehow strong and full of faith. Instead, I think some of us are called to ministry because we often doubt our faith, and being immersed in a faith life helps us stay faithful. It is OK to be vulnerable and show vulnerability with one another. A crisis lays us open to doubt, fear and anxiety, and we need to be honest and share those feelings as they occur.
3. Contact can take many forms as we have mailed postcards; sent cards; hold daily zoom calls. We want to hear from the outside world as we are isolated. We want to share lives. Making contact with others no matter what form can make a real difference in the lives of leaders as well as all of us.
Two challenges I found most difficult to overcome
1. The pressure to open our facility prematurely. We have a vocal few who wish for us to open despite health care warnings. As a non-profit dependent on donations for livelihood–it is hard to weigh the risks, but human wellness has prevailed, and our leadership team continues to feel it is unsafe to meet in person. We are just beginning to explore methods to safely gather in groups of 10 or less. We are exploring a drive-through Eucharist (Communion) after a small group gathers to be present as the bread and wine are blessed. We are utilizing small self-contained wafer and wine or juice containers.
2. Technology. We prerecord our Sunday worship and post it on YouTube. Keeping it exciting and engaging has required one shift from small rural parish priest to Televangelist. NOT a pivot I ever envisioned. Utilizing a simple i-phone and tripod and recording from all sorts of places in and around our home has been a steep learning curve. We involve several others in the recording of both music as well as prayers and readings, and having more “faces” involved has been very satisfying.
One community achievement I am most proud of
Conflict Management Assistance: We are assisting local housing facilities in training in conflict management and mediating disputes among neighbors. As a conflict management expert before the priesthood, I brought those skills to a community in need. The housing market in a resort community is already quite expensive, but with the loss of jobs and livelihoods, the disputes have increased. Senior Housing facilities now see greater numbers of conflicts among residents, most likely due to being “at home” much more than pre-COVID-19 days.
One thing I learned about myself as a leader
We must stop from time to time and reflect a bit on what we have “done and left undone” (a line from our Confession). We will have to let some things go to keep the many balls in the air. Some of us do poorly in self-care, and at this time, we cannot neglect our own health in mind, body and spirit. Some days you simply have to smile on through and go into the garden and pull weeds or soon shovel a bit of snow.
About the Author
E. Wendy Huber, the priest for St Peters of the Valley Episcopal Church in Basalt, Colorado, joined our community of dear friends decades ago. The church is located in the middle of the Roaring Fork Valley with Aspen at one end and Glenwood Springs at the other end. She teaches non-profit management for Colorado Mountain College in Colorado. Before her work in the faith community, she worked in conflict management and non-profit leadership. She is trained as a priest as well as an attorney. She lives with two dogs, a cat and a retired Professor husband.
- What are you doing to take care of yourself? How are you helping others to do the same?
- What skills do you bring as you do so?
- What are you learning about yourself?