Four thoughts for leaders in the new year

Blessed and gentle new year, dear friends.

While there is much to be thankful for, I find myself weary. It took a bit longer to recover from Christmas than in other years. As I have had time to spend with family and a bit of time to reflect during the last week I realize that pivoting again with this new Omicron surge is weighing on me. The cases are rising rapidly when many of us expected that things might be returning to normal. So, then, what to do about faith formation ministry, especially with children? Four thoughts as we return:

Lead with your core values. In May of 2020 I asked myself, “How will I lead in this adaptive challenge?” In the last 18 months I have attempted to lead faithfully, calmly, and courageously. This new year I am again leaning into this question. And, as before, “I am intentionally cultivating relationships that are places of mutual trust and support so that I can manage my own emotions in order to lead through disequilibrium.”

Give people the information they need to assess their risk. Experts are suggesting that we think about our individual “risk budgets,” the cumulative amount of exposure to COVID and our health circumstances. This aligns with what I am hearing from parents – they want to know what they are getting into before attending events. Will people be masked? How large will the crowd be? What activities are happening? Whatever format your ministry takes in the coming months, let people know what to expect before they arrive. Always be clear and pivot from your purpose.

Continue to plan for the most limited case scenario. I have consistently planned for what is possible in the most restrictive COVID scenario imagined in our area. If things are better we expand from there. Last year’s drive through live nativity became a walk through this year (indoors because of rain – another pivot!) Part of what I’ve been reflecting on from Christmas was that I had planned for a mostly-in-person Christmas Eve Family service. In the past we had children gather at the manger but in October decided that we needed to keep more distance. Then, with the fast Omicron surge, I was left wondering if an in-person gathering was wise. In the end, we limited in-person attendance and live streamed the event as planned. That gave parents the info they needed to make a decision when the news was changing rapidly (see #2 above). Our Colors of Christmas Family Nativity Worship used shadow, light, and color to tell the story of Jesus’ birth- check it out here. Thanks to Matthew Paul Turner for the blessing we used at the end based on his book, All the Colors of Christmas.

Pray. Pray with your family (here is my pandemic prayer book). Pray with your congregation (here are my prayers of the people). Pray in the quiet of your day (here are my favorite books). Receive an emailed prayer from my colleague Katie Lancaster’s new “My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond,”

I have been immersed in Pádraig Ó. Tuama’s Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community these last weeks which has short collects centered on the theme of “Do not fear.” Jan Richardson’s Circle of Grace is always a lovely choice for a new season.

Pray with me, an excerpt from Christmas Eve this 10th day of Christmas:

God of the stable, let hope arrive.

Because you arrived that silent night, so long ago, in the unlikeliest of places, we trust you will arrive in each of our searching hearts again and in your time will bring rest to the weary, reconciliation in impossible rifts, and a path forward when we no longer know the way.

God of the shepherds in the fields, let great joy arrive,

Increase it beyond our wildest night visions. For those far from loved ones, for those who grieve, for those with tender hearts longing for the seats around the table to be filled, for all facing physical and mental illness, for those who are alone, let joy be born anew, let light shine in deep darkness.

God of the nations, God of justice, let everlasting peace arrive,

For in that tiny town of Bethlehem long ago, with the yoke of empire weighing on the shoulders of the powerless gathered to be counted,  hope in unfamiliar form slipped into the world, almost unnoticed. Heaven met earth and the Prince of Peace arrived on a starlit night. And so, we pray for the vulnerable, those on the edges, those seeking shelter, those who live invisibly among us. Open our hearts to their needs. Let the sound of warrior’s tramping boots cease, that everlasting peace might blanket every corner of the world. We pray especially for the leaders of nations, that they might seek your wisdom, We pray for the healers and the peacemakers, and faith formation leaders, that they might have strength and courage to continue their work. Amen.

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