On Caring for Self and Others in this Time of Pandemic

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Resources for Spiritual Caregivers

Many of you have read “The Coming Pastoral Crash” or similar reflections on the levels of stress and fatigue inflicted on spiritual leaders by the pandemic, but even if you haven’t, you’ve almost certainly felt the pressures it describes. It’s not just your inability to be at the bedside of the sick or the dying or to sit beside those who are mourning. It’s not just the technical challenges of online worship or missing the sacraments of water and wine. It’s not just the worries about finances. Everything changed at once, and the familiar markers of your ministry have been replaced with a continuous scramble to locate yourself on the map of pastoral identity.  At the same time, you may have become your children’s teacher or be vying for time and space with your spouse who is also working from home. It’s exhausting and relentless. Whatever patterns you had established for self-care before the pandemic likely no longer work, and if self-care was already low on your list of priorities, it’s now fallen off the scale. 

Although Bishop Doyle has worked with the foundations of the Diocese to provide financial space to congregations and has mobilized Diocesan staff to provide technical and other support to help you be the church in a time of social distancing, we know that the pandemic continues to take its toll.  As you make careful plans to reclaim your meeting space and begin to gather in person, you are realizing that the new normal will be anything but. Change will continue, and the pastoral needs of your congregations will also continue or even increase as the life cycle of the pandemic plays out.

You may find yourselves facing a bewildering array of pastoral issues in your congregations related to COVID-19. Not all congregations will suffer equally, but none will be untouched.  Some members may be ill or dying and fearful of being isolated away from family in a hospital or care facility. Some may be grieving the death of family members or friends, complicated by guilt or anger at not being with them as they were dying and not being able to mourn them with traditional gatherings. Some may be in spiritual crisis because they believed in a God who wouldn’t let such suffering happen. Some may be experiencing economic distress and a loss of identity around work. Some may be healthcare workers who are traumatized by their experiences or angry at what they believe could have been avoided. Some may work in essential services and feel unappreciated for the risks that they’ve had to take. Some may be stricken by the social justices issues laid bare by the pandemic. Some may be exhausted and frazzled from trying to work from home while home-schooling their children or caring for babies. Some may be struggling with substance use disorders or other addiction made worse by quarantine and the disruption of comforting routines. Some may suffer from anxiety disorders or other mental health issues exacerbated by isolation and fear. Some may be living in households where stress has elevated conflict to unsafe levels. Still others may feel guilty at being the unwitting source of infecting others, or for failing to take precautions that may have contributed to someone’s becoming ill. Some may feel marginalized because they remain too vulnerable to come to church.  And some may feel resentful or just sad that these last months have stolen from them precious opportunities that can never be returned, like holding an infant grandchild, or experiencing prom and graduation with best friends. The list goes on. It’s no wonder if you feel acutely challenged by the moment.

To complicate the situation even further, the fatigue and stew of emotions stirred by the pandemic may find expression in anger and opposition to COVID-19 mitigation efforts or to the church’s support of anti-racism protests and social justice. How do we overcome our own reactivity and anxiety to respond to the hidden grief and fear with empathy and compassion?

You each have stories to tell of ministering in times of loss and heartache, and you each have wisdom gained from experiences over time that have shaped you as pastoral leaders. Even so, the pastoral demands of this moment may threaten to overwhelm you. Below is a collection of resources and reflections to support you in the work of caring for your congregations, your families, one another, and yourselves. The link to each resource is briefly described to help you discern whether an item is worth exploring.

The material is divided into three sections, Self-Care, Pastoral Leadership and Care, and Liturgical Resources. “Self-Care” is listed first precisely because our temptation is always to put it last. We know the oxygen mask metaphor but tend to ignore it: put on our own before helping to put on someone else’s. Taking care of ourselves is more important now than ever even if it feels selfish. We are called to self-sacrificial love, but if our goal is to lead our communities effectively and faithfully through this crisis, it doesn’t help to add a leader to the casualty list. The “self” we may be called to sacrifice may be our egos that deceive us into thinking that the future of our congregations and the wellbeing of our people depend entirely upon our heroic efforts. As leaders, we have an opportunity to model self-care for others in our communities who also are stumbling under the burdens placed on them by the pandemic or concurrent challenges.  If it helps to motivate you to tend to your own wellness, think of self-care as pastoral care for your community.

This collection of resources will be available on the COVID-19 Hub of the diocesan website. My hope is that this library of resources will grow as you send helpful material to me for posting.

With gratitude for your creativity and faithfulness in making Christ known in this time of pandemic,

Lisa 

The Rev. Canon Lisa S. Hines
Canon for Wellness and Care

Resources for Caring for Self and Others in a Time of Pandemic

 

Self-Care


For the most part, the resources below address self-care by spiritual caregivers, although some are more general, like the links to an Ignatian-inspired spirituality and the links to mindfulness practices. I have annotated each link with a brief description to help you determine what you may find helpful. Additional resources for self-care are found under Pastoral Care, like the Humanitarian Disaster Institute’s help sheets on “Facing Loss during COVID-19: How to Care for Your Whole Self” and “Coping with COVID-19: Managing Stress and Anxiety.” Please be sure to read Bishop Ryan’s guidance on avoiding exposure to infection.

The Basics of Self-Care
Each of the links below has something different to offer, although they tend to address the need to care for the whole self, to establish boundaries, and to tend relationships. At the bottom are resources that particularly address burn-out.

  • “Strategies for Self-Care,” The Rev. Dr. Dave Scheider offers a summary of his advice for spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional self-care, with attention to tending to the ratio of positive to negative interactions with life and keeping good boundaries.
  • “Strategies for Self-Care,” HDI.  A help sheet that offers five practical strategies for self-care: Plan Well, Maintain Faith, Balance Life Activities, Keep an Optimistic Perspective, Action Steps for Clergy and Chaplains (including be a model of self-care for others). 
  • “4 Steps to Cultivate Pastor Resilience,” Jamie Aten and Kent Annen. A manageable approach that focuses on creating structure, setting boundaries, and establishing “healthy ministry rhythms” that include time for rest.
  • “Recognizing and Preventing Burn-Out in Yourself,” A detailed description of the emotional, physical, behavioral, and spiritual signs of burn-out, and how to address burn-out with specific measures grouped under “Recognition, Reversal, and Resilience.
  •  “Lessons for Self-Care,” ERD. Straight talk about the clergy tendency to over function, compassion fatigue, burn-out, and practical advice on how to set boundaries.

Mindfulness  and Prayer

Pastoral Leadership and Care


Below are some resources that we hope will support you in caring for your people pastorally. Some address COVID-19 directly; others are more general.  They include guidance on the larger issue of being pastoral leaders in a time of crisis and loss, as well as help-sheets for particular pastoral issues and links to outside resources.  Although the resources are divided between “leadership” and “care,” the lines blur, and I hope you will explore the links in both categories. At the end, you will find resources that you may find helpful for funeral planning. 

Pastoral Leadership

 General Reflections

  • “A Few Lessons Applied,” The Rev. Can. Lisa Hines, with the Revs. David Peters and Tony Clark. A reflection on pastoral leadership in time of crisis that goes beyond direct pastoral care and counseling.
  • “HDS Guide to Pastoral Care,” Ellen R. Campbell-Reed, PhD. A thoughtful overview of pastoral leadership in the current crisis.
  • “Brutal Facts AND Prevailing Faith,” Mike Bonem. A brief reflection on the Stockdale paradox (based on Admiral Jim Stockdale’s experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam) that urges pastors to face the facts of the current reality with all of their uncertainty, while retaining faith that we will prevail in the end.
  • “Lessons from Ministry in the Midst of a Disaster,” The Rev. Matt Crebbin. Five lessons learned from ministering in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings, including recognizing that you will receive both unearned accolades and unearned blame for doing your best to show up in the crisis.

 Forming and Caring for Pastoral Care Teams

Pastoral Care

Grief, Fear and Anxiety

  • “Facing Loss During COVID-19: How to Care for Your Whole Self,” Humanitarian Disaster Institute. An extensive help sheet for anyone experiencing loss (of income, loved one, health, security, community, etc.) and uncertainty. Emphasis is on coping with stress and anxiety rather than on grief.
  • “Coping with COVID-19: Managing Stress and Anxiety,” Humanitarian Disaster Institute. A wise and compassionate help sheet with New Testament references that offers five ways of coping: Understanding our Problems (untangling our thoughts and emotions and examining our actions), Grounding (mental, physical, soothing), Deep Breathing, Gratitude, and Meaning Making.
  • “Managing Fears and Anxieties around COVID-19,” Normalizes the emotions we may be experiencing and offers very manageable advice on mindfulness, gratitude practices, self-compassion, keeping perspective, being mindful of our assumptions, etc.—all in everyday language.
  • “That Discomfort You Feel is Grief,” Scott Berinato (for Harvard Business Review). An interview with grief-expert, David Kessler, on the varied dimensions of grief in the COVID-19 crisis and how to manage the anxiety they produce.
  • “Grief: The New Normal,” The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab. A grief and loss ebook that offers brief examples of the various responses to grief with a multitude of links to relevant resources.

 Mental Health and Recovery

Other Resources with a Particular Focus

Talking to Children

  • “Coronavirus, Anxiety, Children and the Church,” Angela Compton Nelson. Although this was written at the beginning of the pandemic, it offers some very helpful tips for helping children through the anxiety of returning to church, taking communion, etc.  Written by a Yale Divinity School graduate who is Minister for Christian Education and Youth at an Episcopal Church. 

End of Life Planning and Ministry to the Dying and their Families

Funeral Planning During the Pandemic

Liturgical Resources


A link to the online Enriching Our Worship 2: Ministry to the Sick and Dying, Burial of a Child. A rich resource for prayers for the sick and liturgies for Ministry at the Time of Death, including two options for Litanies at the Time of Death and a Form of Prayer When Life-Sustaining Treatment is Withheld of Discontinued.

Litanies and Prayers for Pandemic

Two Services of Healing