Ponderings from a Pastor Parent during Covid-19.
By Rev. Dr. Suzanne Allen
Being a pastor and a parent has never been easy. All the nuances that go along with that special term PK (pastor’s kids) are evidence of this. Pastor parents pray over their children, hoping that they will experience love and grace through their church, that they will pick up a healthy theology from their preaching, worrying about what they might be missing in order to grow a strong faith of their own.
Being a pastor and a parent became more challenging when I moved to my role on the staff of the district. We had to choose a church to attend that wasn’t the church I was appointed to. The regular pastor parent questions and prayers all resurfaced in new ways when I wasn’t the one leading the church. I had to learn to influence my children by offering the ministry of encouragement, sharing my faith and theology in smaller daily ways, and by trusting God’s call on the lives of those who are serving in the roles I had always had at the churches I served.
Being a pastor and a parent has taken on even more complexity during this season of Covid-19. My kids are now 13 and 15. Our church staff has been amazing in reaching out and offering all kinds of online opportunities. We have watched the online worship service together each weekend. We have replied to the youth director’s e-mail updates and helped our them connect into the weekly zoom games and discussions. We have done some of the daily Instagram devotions together as a family.
But as the events that ground them in their faith each summer get cancelled or adapted—Annual Conference at Lakeside, Choir Tour, Church Camp, VBS, and possibly the Mission Trip, my pastor parent prayers have intensified once again. How do I help my children grieve what they will miss out on this summer, these weeks that hold their favorite memories? Some of these things simply cannot be replicated online from a distance. They are embodied experiences in which the Holy Spirit moves in a place that is a holy destination, in gathered community, and in the dedication of that time to the formational practices that increase faith. How do I make sure that they still have opportunities for significant faith moments and growth this summer?
Being a pastor parent also means that I’m worrying about the other children and youth who would have come to faith this summer because of these events and activities, who would have recommitted to following the Holy One while at VBS or on a mission trip, who would have found hope and healing after a rough year at school or home during a week away with church friends and leaders who show them grace and what it means to serve and to love unconditionally.
I don’t know exactly what the answer is. It’s been on my mind a lot over these last few weeks as one special event after another gets cancelled. But here are a few things that I have observed along the way.
Technology is an amazing tool, but it isn’t enough.
- Even though this generation is the most technologically connected ever and kids are staying connected with their friends through all kinds of platforms like SnapChat, TikTok, and Instagram, they are shy on platforms like Zoom. It intensifies the anxiety that they already deal with and puts the adults who are in the room in more of a position of authority than when they are together in person.
- Technology is fleeting. If you’re not ready for it in that moment, it requires an extra layer of effort to engage. My kids don’t always have time or aren’t in the right environment to do the Instagram devotion when they are scrolling through posts. When they do have time and space, they already have 100+ other posts to look at. Only the most intentional of us will go back to find the daily devotion and do it. When I asked my son about summer devotions, he surprised me by saying that having a paper book of devotions would help him as he gets distracted and tired of being online.
- Finally, using technology to do socially distanced ministry is better than nothing, but it misses a relational engagement that is hard to capture. My son keeps reminding me that for youth ministry through technology to be effective, it needs to call for action and engagement across the group, not just to communicate information back and forth.
Our kids still need encouragement, resources, and opportunities to serve.
Faith highlights of our spring social distancing have been:
- When we were asked to “egg” houses of children in the church with the plastic Easter eggs full of candy that would have been distributed during the church Easter egg hunt.
- Being part of reading the scripture and Mother’s Day message videos for worship.
- Putting Holy Week messages on our driveway with chalk.
- The opportunity to see a few people at a time from a distance in the church parking lot.
Parents are more important in forming faith than we often recognize.
- We are spending more time than ever with our families. How we interact with each other and the world around us makes a huge statement about our faith.
- Our kids are witnessing our trust of God and our practical theology first-hand as we decide whether our rights and the economy or love of neighbor and protection of the most vulnerable are most important, and as we offer them, ourselves, and others grace during these difficult days.
- Without the social aspect of church, coming and going in separate cars and staying after for various groups and activities, there is more opportunity to have conversation with each other about what is happening in worship and how it relates to our lives in practical ways. Last weekend, I realized that it was important to connect what was said in the sermon to the harassment that Dr. Acton had received about being Jewish and to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. On an ordinary non-Covid Sunday this wouldn’t have happened as a family discussion. I was so thankful it did. It was a reminder that as parents we are faith leaders and we are the ones who help our kids weave all of the pieces of emotions, experiences, school, and church together to cultivate a life of faith.
I don’t know how Covid-19 will shape and form us, our kids, and our faith in the future, but I am thankful that I am not alone in this journey. In my role in the Ohio River Valley District I have the opportunity to interact with many pastors, youth directors, and children’s pastors who are joining me in prayer over our youth and doing everything they can to surround them with and kindle the light and love of Christ in them. I am continually blessed by their creativity and faithfulness.
Most of all, I am thankful that God is with us, leading us, praying with us, and filling us with hope, revealing to us both new and old ways of sharing in faith with the next generation.
Rev. Dr. Suzanne Allen
Suzanne currently serves as the Assistant to the District Superintendent for the Ohio River Valley District of the UMC. She has been in ministry for 22 years. She is married to Daryl and has two children, Jacob and Zoe. She loves hiking, kayaking, gardening, and spending time outdoors admiring God’s creation.