By Rev. Krista Betz
The Next Generation Leadership Initiative (NGLI) energizes and empowers younger UCC local church pastors to co-create vibrant congregations that change lives, engage their communities, and further God’s mission in the world. For twelve years the Pension Boards/United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance has been leading this initiative that has impacted 150 clergy and the congregations they serve. Our most recent learning experience took us to Detroit, Michigan to study Human Centered Design (HCD) with Rev. Phil Hart, Michigan Interim Conference Minister
In an intensive care unit, I was serving holy communion to Linda, a COVID patient with pecan brown skin, silver hair, and a soft voice. This visit was unique because I was dressed in my yellow gown, blue head covering, face shield, N95 mask, and rubber gloves. I didn’t know that some of my last words to Linda would be, “let us commune together.” I had been visiting Linda for several weeks and hoping she would get better. During her stay, she requested communion and I brought it to her on a Sunday, which would turn out to be the last time we would share the bread and cup. A few days later she was put on a ventilator because her breathing became difficult without support. She never recovered, and later died.
COVID has prevented families from visiting the hospital and patients can feel isolated. Thank God some bring their cell phones so they can FaceTime with their families or talk to them on the phone. However, there is nothing like having a face-to-face conversation with your loved one. My colleagues and I have been very deliberate about our visits with COVID patients so that they do not feel isolated and disconnected from the outside world.
Much has been written about the liminal times we are experiencing in the church and world. We are in between what once was and what will be. Change is constant and while it may cause anxiety, it also means we are alive! Rev. Hart reminded us that the only thing that will bring us security is the ability to adapt, change, and innovate. So, we spent our time together in Detroit observing and learning from people and organizations that have creativity, inspiration, and an entrepreneurial spirit at the center of their work so that we can take these lessons home to our congregations. While COVID has presented challenges and loss, the gift of providing pastoral care to someone like Linda during my communion visit reminds me how Christ demonstrated the importance of caring for people in the community, no matter the crisis.
Here are some significant take-aways the pastors shared: