This time of crisis requires adaptations, innovations, and perseverance by faith leaders

April 6, 2020
by Clyde G. Kratz
Executive Conference Minister

April 3, 2020

Pastors and Leaders within Virginia Mennonite Conference,

As I anticipate celebrating Palm Sunday, I fondly remember children walking into the meetinghouse waving palm branches and smiling boldly; their enthusiasm was in the air. I remember the uplifting singing and the sense of a celebrative mood. I am celebrating today that our congregations and church agencies are through the first phase of a leadership crisis. Our leaders have met the challenge, persevered, and are emerging into new routines. It has not been without anguish, frustration, sleepless nights, and weariness.

As pastors and leaders enter into this new phase of their leadership role, I want to observe and highlight a few dynamics. As pastors and leaders are working at home, there is no longer a boundary between work and home. Therefore, I am encouraging (actually strongly urging) pastors and agency leaders to take an intentional “Sabbath day” away weekly from technology and work, in order to be effective, engaged, and efficient with the work that lies ahead. Innovation and adaptations consume a different type of energy which can lead to exhaustion and weariness. The leadership challenges associated with this pandemic are still unfolding. Congregations and agencies need your best in these difficult times. Nurture resiliency through self-care: take daily walks, and strengthen your devotional life.

Updates from the Executive Conference Minister

On April 3, I was in a Zoom meeting with other conference ministers of Mennonite Church USA. It is generally accepted by this group that many congregations have adapted to this first phase of the pandemic by beginning increased online activities and communication with their church body. There is significant concern being raised about the financial impact on congregations, conferences, and church agencies. Three or four conferences are financially fragile and envision significant adjustments to staffing and services provided by their conference in the near future. A number of conferences are cancelling or postponing their summer assemblies were planned for the month of June. Mennonite Church USA Executive Director Glen Guyton has been promoting the importance of mutual aid by the Church during these difficult and uncertain times.

In my role as Executive Conference Minister, Zoom meetings are the new normal. Each week, I have been meeting with Oversight Leaders and Cluster Leaders to learn about the impact that the pandemic is having on congregations and their leaders. Some of the themes we have identified from our conversations are listed here:

  • Managing the short term leadership needs of a congregation without public meetings
  • Pastoral care through technology
  • Developing solicitation letters and securing online and mail donations
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate with the constituency – over-communication can be a good thing!
    Pastoral care

  • Responding to member hospitalizations
  • Anticipating acceleration in addictive behaviors, i.e. alcohol, drugs, pornography, online retail therapy
  • Caring for those with marital discord leading to an increase in divorce following the “physical distance” restrictions
  • Promoting healthy behaviors for adults in child care situations that do not foster conflict with the children
  • Providing pastoral care to family members grieving in place for a deceased person
    Religious education

  • What ways are pastors providing materials for families to engage in Sunday school, for both adults and children?
  • How are the needs of youth being cared for during this time?
    Anticipating the return to public events

  • Potential resurgence of participants or fear of public meetings?
  • How do you prepare for the first Sunday back?
  • How do you deal with the overwhelming need to conduct numerous memorial services of persons who have died during this time of isolation?
    Theological language

  • Dealing with the tension of human experience and the providence of God
  • Spiritual formation of individuals
  • Living in the now, with an ambiguous future
  • Building hope in the midst of adversity

I remain grateful for the quality of leadership that Oversight Leaders, Cluster Leaders, and pastors are providing during this time of crisis, which requires adaptations, innovations, and perseverance. Agency leaders are also leading with distinction throughout this time.

Virginia Mennonite Conference is grateful for the financial support we receive from our congregations and individual donors. It remains my hope that congregations and individuals will continue to support the work of our Conference. There have been some adjustments in the expenses of our Conference which will help us live within our means. Anieta McCracken, Administrative Services Manager, resigned from her role at the end of February. At this time, there is no immediate plan to hire someone to fill her role. In my role as Executive Conference Minister, I am completing some of the tasks of the Administrative Service Manager but also utilizing volunteers. This week I completed the task of sending out checks to church agencies with the “Forwar dings from Congregations.” I am certain church agencies leaders are, and will continue to be, grateful to you for your continued congregational financial support.

One of the new leadership initiatives that recently occurred is the creation of the COVID-19 Benevolence Fund by the Finance Committee of Virginia Mennonite Conference. This fund was created as Oversight Leaders reported on financial challenges that some congregations were facing. A timely-received estate gift has been allocated to this fund, so that we have seed money to begin distributing immediately. I am aware of at least one application that is being completed.

Recognizing the significance of our legacy of mutual aid, I invite congregations and individuals to designate a special gift to this fund in order to help struggling congregations. [Checks can be made out to Virginia Mennonite Conference, with the memo COVID-19 Benevolence Fund.]
Update from Agencies

I have been sharing updates from agencies of how they are working and responding in this time of crisis. I received the following update from Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community:

VMRC appreciates your prayers for our employees as we provide care for our residents.

Some of our employees have been reassigned since our independent living residents are sheltering in place, and we’ve restricted visitors in Supportive Living. For instance, our Wellness and Community Based Services team is recording daily Community Updates with VMRC leadership, Devotionals and Bible Studies with the VMRC Chaplains, and Fitness Classes with the Wellness Center staff. The daily broadcasts air on VMRC’s internal television channel. We’re still focusing on wellness, but it looks a little differently since we can’t congregate.

The Life Enrichment team is utilizing technology like Skype and FaceTime so that residents can visit with their loved ones. We hear from some residents that they are reading and writing more and using the time to embrace the solitude and connect with God.

VMRC’s infection control practices include monitoring residents in Assisted Living, Transitional Care and Woodland Park for cough, shortness of breath and fever at every employee shift. All employees undergo daily health screenings including recorded temperature readings prior to work. The health screenings for residents and staff have been in place since mid-March.

We are asking residents to stay on campus. If congregation members want to check in with VMRC residents via text, email or phone to learn if they need groceries or medications delivered, that would be helpful. Writing notes of gratitude and blessing to residents would also be wonderful. And of course, phone calls and FaceTime can be arranged.

Social distancing is key not only for VMRC residents and employees, but everyone!

Thank you for your continued commitment to physically distancing from other people. Continue to engage people through social media. Your prayers are welcomed and necessary during this time on rapid change.

It is my belief that God is a redeeming God. Throughout biblical history, we read of God’s people living through wicked kings, plagues, and persecution. In spite of these hardships, the people of God sought to be faithful and navigated the terrain with resilience. It remains my hope and sincere desire that we discover the depth and breadth of God’s love in times of adversity, uncertainty, and hardship, whereby we can be a voice of hope, grace and peace to all those we encounter.

Blessings in your service,

Clyde G. Kratz
Executive Conference Minister
P.S. Please note The CARES Act and impact for congregations as a resource moving forward.

P.P.S. The new Spring 2020 issue of Pathways is available! It will be distributed electronically as congregations are not gathering.