Deprived of face-to-face contact with his parishioners during the height of the pandemic, Michael Coren, an Anglican priest, had to get creative to minister to the sick, the dying, the elderly, and the lonely.
IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG for the pandemic to shape the practice of my new ministry in profound ways. My daily tasks as a priest? Lead services at retirement and care homes; meet people who need housing, employment, money, and advice; visit the sick and housebound; help with feeding the hungry. I work as a priest independently (which also means that clergy anecdotes are, by their very nature, personal; there are no witnesses). A constant of all this activity is direct and personal contact. A constant of COVID-19, of course, was the absence of direct and personal contact. How do you counsel, listen to, pray with—and for—people if you can’t share the same space?
So I started two prayer groups and a bereavement group and chaired a meeting of parents of adult children with mental health issues. All on Zoom. I also started a telephone support group. Every week, volunteers called to check in with parishioners unable to leave their homes. Our job was to ask after people, be a friendly voice. Since there were certain things I couldn’t do, I had to compensate. You don’t need to embrace someone to show you care. Indeed, hugging is so common as to be drained of meaning. I tried to develop listening skills to reach further than where the usual words and actions could take me. One example remains: a young woman crying at the death of her mother. It was a phone call. I paused. A lot. When you can’t see the person, it’s hard to pace your moments. Instead, you give them plenty of time to complete their weeping, and you stay silent with them in their grief.