How Social Distancing Is Bringing Pastors Closer to Their Congregants

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In both innovative and old-school ways, ministers are overcoming pandemic hurdles to provide pastoral care.

Daniel McGhee was preparing to lead a weekly small group through 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren at his New York City church when pandemic restrictions began. The pastor of Connection Church in Queens quickly pivoted to Zoom and revised his plan. The small group still met every week online, but McGhee added another component to the study, which he hoped would alleviate the isolation people would feel in the weeks to come. He interviewed a church member every day for 40 days and posted the interviews on YouTube so others could watch them.

In this new virtual scenario, McGhee entered the homes of his church members in a different way. He would talk casually with them before and after their short interviews on Zoom. During those 40 days, he learned more about their lives. This led McGhee to begin texting or calling church members on a weekly basis too—a practice that is now part of his routine.

“I would ask them in our conversations how I could pray for them, and I would write those things down,” McGhee said. “I would text them at some point that I was praying for them. That’s endeared me to them and them to me and helped me actually be more of a pastor in deed instead of just by positional title. [The pandemic] kind of forced me to do that.”

McGhee said this was a “humbling” revelation for him. He realized he was now giving greater attention to pastoral care and learning more about his parishioners’ lives than he had before the city’s strict lockdown, despite the isolation it brought.

“I actually was interacting with people at a higher pace than I was prepandemic,” McGhee said. “Before the pandemic, we had our programs—our small groups, our prayer …

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