I had just finished a very encouraging conversation. It was in mid-March, and a friend in my congregation was going through a difficult time. We got together for an evening to talk. It was quite late when I got home, but that felt irrelevant. What felt far more important was that we’d been able to personally connect with each other about such heartfelt issues.
The next morning — bam! The unheard-of occurred. Social-distancing measures went into effect in Manitoba. Our senior pastor quickly initiated an online meeting to discuss how we would respond as a church staff in light of these new measures.
There was no argument that the measures were valuable and necessary. We wanted to do our part to minimize the impact of this terrible virus on our health-care workers and our city. But how would pastors who felt called to care for others do so when we were being asked to distance ourselves from everyone?
It didn’t help that on that very day my friend, the one I met earlier, contacted me asking: "When can we connect again?" When, indeed? I didn’t know.
We live in an age that seems to have endless ways to connect with each other. Facebook alone claims to have 2.5 billion users. It’s reported by Zephoria Digital Marketing that five new Facebook profiles are created every second, and that every 60 seconds 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.
And there are literally dozens and dozens of other social-media websites available for people to interact online.
We as pastors were quickly introduced to tools that many others had been using for a long time: Zoom, Hangouts and other video-conferencing apps. I even "got together" that first day with someone using one of those options.
It was helpful to chat with people on video screens, but it was also obviously very new and not altogether comfortable for many. It was then I discovered an old friend: the telephone. I began calling people — many people! In the past month, I’ve connected with many dozens of people in our church and I’ve been surprised how meaningful many of those calls have been.
Some have gotten choked up — one person began crying, and many were truly encouraged that someone called to see how they were doing. Some had just had a very hard day or were facing imminent challenges; they appreciated having someone to talk to about it.
It became obvious that even in isolation, I could connect with people regarding heartfelt issues, just as I had done in person with my friend on that evening before this pandemic reached us.
And that’s why I began encouraging people to do it, too. Connecting isn’t something only pastors are meant to do. The Bible contains many of what are known as "one another" verses. They say things like, "love one another," "care for one another," "comfort one another," "encourage one another" and "bear one another’s burdens." All followers of Jesus can do these things!
I like to call it one-anothering one another, and it’s something sorely needed in these days of isolation due to COVID-19. All it takes is picking up a phone and calling whoever comes to mind. Ask how they’re doing, especially those who are health-care workers, a staff person at a grocery store or someone else considered an essential service.
If we all do this, I believe our city will begin to feel a little less lonely and little more encouraged. All it takes is being intentional about connecting with our fellow quarantiners with a simple telephone — and one-anothering one another.
Ken Peters is associate pastor at Gateway Church in East Kildonan.
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