It has now been 18 months since Archbishop Phillip Aspinall called us to care for each other and stay connected during this challenging time. Those involved in pastoral care in our Diocesan community have certainly heeded this call.
Over the last 18 months, workers and volunteers, both ordained and lay, have dedicated themselves to helping people journey through COVID-tide, just as health workers have committed themselves to providing medical care to those who contract the virus.
COVID-19 has necessitated unprecedented demands on all members of our community. The constantly shifting nature of the COVID-19 environment has brought unique challenges, including for clergy as we keep updated on Queensland Government restrictions regarding check-ins, mask wearing, hand hygiene, occupant density and so on.
We do this while simultaneously caring for people’s pastoral and spiritual needs.
We especially worry about those in nursing homes, young families, and people who are unemployed, in at-risk demographics or doing it tough living on our streets.
In the ongoing COVID-19 environment, it would be easy to push ourselves beyond our limits and dismiss our own wellbeing, overcommitting without realising that we are using our personal survival resources at a rapid rate. So how do we effectively pastorally care for others while ensuring our own self-care, for the sake of our families and ourselves?
These are some of my tips for flourishing in this ongoing and shifting environment.
Tips for flourishing in the ongoing and shifting COVID-19 environment
- Remember that we can get through this together
As pastoral carers, lay or ordained, we belong to community, which is essential for our well-being. Social researcher Hugh Mackay, in his recent book The Kindness Revolution, notes that Australians are experiencing a re-birth of community, as often happens in times of crisis.
We have an opportunity to rediscover the power of community. Perhaps this sounds antithetical given physical distancing and repeated lockdowns, although to allow oneself to perceive this truth helps us to recognise the next point.
- Each day brings its own infection-status statistics, with restrictions regularly updated – the rapidity of change calls us to remain informed
Within our Diocese, we are fortunate to have regular updates concerning COVID-19 restrictions and developments published by the Parishes and other Mission Agencies Commission (PMC) on the ACSQ website and communicated via email. As the PMC team receives the information, they distil the information that is relevant for our community and distributes it promptly. Not all denominations have this level of support.
Make sure you keep up to date by visiting this webpage often and letting your Wardens and Parish Councillors know of updates as soon as possible. ‘Not knowing’ is often a source of anxiety, and while we need to abide by government restrictions, ensuring our community is kept informed goes a long way to curbing this source of anxiety.
- Commit to knowing the very latest in personal health directives for your own wellbeing
Queensland Health maintains a comprehensive website and your general practitioner can also answer questions. For example, have you checked your eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine?
- Remember that all people must take up their own responsibilities in order to serve others
This is the basis of an address given by Pope Francis to those gathering in Rimini for the ‘Meeting for Friendship amongst Peoples’. Pope Francis reminds us that: “What is needed above all else is someone who has the courage to say ‘I’ with responsibility…communicating with his or her own life that the day can begin with reliable hope.”
Vaccination is as much, maybe even more, for the good of society at large as it is for the individual.
- Listen – really listen!
It takes courage to really listen to others, particularly when our own minds are full of concerns, plans and commitments. Listen to parishioners, family members, colleagues and your own self. Listen in compassion and humility.
Emphatic and attentive listening is a two-fold gift. It benefits the listener and the one who is being heard.
- Remain humble
We stand humbly before our God, remembering our collective vulnerability and the fact that we cannot control what is happening.
- Pray and, if necessary, use words
A number of people have remarked about how difficult it can sometimes be to find words for prayer, especially when every day brings a new tragedy.
Sometimes there are no words – just gentle togetherness. When words are necessary, offer to pray with others – in person or over the phone. Consider using the Psalms with their themes of lament, struggle, love and trust. Centre thoughts and prayer on faith, courage, gratitude and others.
- Lead by example – be a calm, hopeful, loving person
Be a hopeful presence in your community, balancing your language with lament for our losses and hope for our future.
Remember to meet regularly with your spiritual director and/or professional supervisor. These are challenging times and protecting your own physical, mental, spiritual and professional health is very important. And, dedicate time out for yourself, including for exercise.
- Stay in touch
As tempting as it may be to revel in your introversion (if you are so blessed), remember that others need you and even introverts need others at times.
Within your own limits, be available and actively reach out, especially in times of lockdown. Make it your business to know of families in your parish who may be in lockdown, and touch base with them. Importantly, ask others in the parish to join you in making phone calls and home visits (restriction permitting).
- Celebrate the Eucharist with great joy
Here we bring people together to thank, worship and praise, seeking the strength of the Holy Spirit to generate great hope. Here we welcome God’s peace and succour, understanding and mercy.
Here we feed on Christ’s gift – his body and blood in remembrance of all he has done for us.