This week we want to share a guest blog by my friend, Laura Edgar. She is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Auburn, Alabama and a graduate of Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. She ministers with students from middle school through college, as well as young adults. In today’s blog she tells us what ministry looks like in this pandemic season. In the year while I served as Laura’s mentor for contextual education, we did not meet like most ministers over coffee. Most times we met by walking for an hour to talk. Laura is still walking, even through the pandemic. ~ Eileen
How to Survive Youth Ministry in a Pandemic: Make the Road by Walking
By Laura Edgar, Associate Pastor for Youth, College and Young Adults, Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn Alabama
On a beautiful April Wednesday I set out for a walk. The flowers are blooming. The birds are chirping. All the trees and bushes are full and green. There are signs of life everywhere I look. The spring breeze is cool and refreshing, and I feel full of life too.
In years’ past on a beautiful April Wednesday I would be in my office at church, working away at my computer. Of course, this year, I’m working from home. I’ve seen the tips about setting up a specific workspace, getting ready for the day, and working normal hours. I see the value in that structure. I also know that I need to get outside, to be immersed in life and light, surrounded by the beauty of creation. So I walk.
It helps me think about how to walk through this season of social distancing with my congregation. What do people need during this time? How can we stay connected while we remain separated? What ways are people struggling, and how can I help?
I minister with youth and college students in a wonderful congregation. My students have experienced much loss and disappointment during these months. They departed school for spring break, without any clue that was the last time they’d see their friends and instructors for this school year. My college students and I had been on a spring break service trip, and my youth had plans to participate in a missions weekend later in March. Like so many other places, our town and church began canceling or postponing gatherings.
At first, it wasn’t so bad. Students felt like they were getting an extended spring break, more time to relax and enjoy their freedom. Slowly, the reality set in for all of us. As time passed, more guidelines and restrictions were put in place. We began to realize that this wasn’t going to end quickly, that we were going to learn a new normal.
How do we walk through this new normal? I worried about my students. I texted with them, asking how they were, expressing concern, reminding them that I was here to listen. Our first college Zoom meeting was fun. Maybe it was because I had just spent so much time with my college students or maybe it was because their jokes and laughter kept me laughing.
I left that meeting feeling joyful and thankful that I could still see their faces even though the students were scattered across the miles. Yes, I thought, we will walk through this the same way we’ve walked through each semester in person – finding fun and gladness, lifting each other’s spirits.
The first time I met with my youth via Zoom was different. Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen them as recently. Even though we had talked, we hadn’t been in the same physical space or seen each other in a couple of weeks. My youth are resilient. That night, they were down. We talked about all the things they were missing and how that was weighing on their minds and hearts. We talked about their grief and where they had seen God in all of this.
As I looked at my screen and saw the faces of students I love in the Brady Bunch squares with which we’ve become all too familiar, all of this social distancing, pandemic reality hit me in a new way. My heart broke for my students.
It wouldn’t be the last time I’d feel heartbroken for them. Still, we walk. We take one step at a time. I’ve sent them postcards, hoping to brighten their days. We played a game over GroupMe where I posted pictures of things at church, and they guessed what was pictured. We’ve continued to meet via Zoom. I’ve attended drive-by birthday parties and sent birthday video messages. I’ve taped signs to their doors and had talks outside from a distance.
There have been countless posts, resources, and Zoom meetings with ideas and suggestions for how to minister creatively in these days. I appreciate how so many people are coming together to share and offer strength and support. Throughout all of this, I look for balance. Sometimes the thought of one more Zoom meeting feels overwhelming. Reading other people’s ideas sometimes makes me feel like I’m not doing enough.
So I walk. It brings me perspective and reminds me of the people who are walking with me as colleagues and friends. I’m thankful for seminary friends and professors and other peers around the country who have shared and listened. We were already socially distanced so our communication didn’t have to change. These colleagues have provided a sense of grounding and hope when everything feels uncertain and heavy.
I want to keep walking, and I hope you do, too. We may be stumbling our way through this at times, and that’s okay. We keep taking one step at a time. I love the quote, “We make the road by walking.” We’ve done it before with circumstances and situations we faced. We’ll do it again in these uncertain times.