A few long, hot summers ago, I was serving in a stressful ministry setting. So I was in close contact with others’ needs and my own limits. As a result, I was feeling worn down and strained.
Speaking with a trusted spiritual counselor, I unloaded these feelings. She validated my stress. But she had known me long enough and well enough to risk a pointed question: Would I be best served here by closing down and cozying into myself, or would it ultimately be healthier for me to extend towards others?
It was a good word. What I needed to care for myself in that particular season was actually to give of myself (and primarily outside of my main ministry context).
In times of stress, it is not uncommon for our vision to shrink, so that we are focused primarily on meeting our own needs. This can be true for individuals as well as groups. Many of us, as pastors, members, and congregations, have experienced this acutely during COVID-19. With griefs, uncertainties, and necessities pressing upon us, many of us have been stuck in some version of survival mode for quite some time.
Attending to our own survival is normal and not cause for shame. But neither is it necessary to stay in survival mode when conditions change and there are other ways to cope. And one way to cope is, in fact, to reach out: to care for our souls by caring for our neighbors.
Now, let me state clearly: boundaries are vital. No one who is burdened should be shamed or squeezed to give, give, give just a little more. This can be, and has been, spiritually abusive. If you are stressed but otherwise alright, however, and have enough to spare, it may help to get your eyes up and your hands open.
The term ‘mutual aid’ is trending these days, as neighbors all over the world look out for one another in tangible and beautiful ways. But the practice is old, and central to early Christianity (e.g., Acts 2.42-47; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1): sharing what you have freely received so that everyone has enough. We do well to remember the Acts 2 church was practicing mutual aid while also living in difficult times.
What might mutual aid look like for your church?
You may be already selflessly serving the communities beyond your walls (and computer screens) in locally-appropriate ways, embodying God’s grace and love in your own neighborhood.
Perhaps your church could also support other churches’ ministries? You may have existing relationships with other congregations in your community or region who could use some support. But if you are looking for other CRCNA churches to support, the CRCNA has a fund specifically for blessing other churches financially during the pandemic—the COVID-19 Church Engagement Fund. (There are no ministry shares used by the fund. Any gifts from churches will not be considered part of their ministry share gift. No administrative overhead is being charged to the fund. It is simply passing the collection plate and redistributing the harvest. See CRCNA Provides Help during Pandemic.)
For those congregations who are still meeting budget and whose members have enough, consider your covenant relationship with other churches. The need is great within your denominational extended family. Many churches have been hit harder than yours (whether due to location on the pandemic map, members’ employment or socio-economic status, or specific mission or calling). Sending funding could be a way to bless them to continue their work. It could be a way to channel your congregation’s restlessness and plenitude to another congregation that is having a tougher time.
In a season where many of us are adapting in one way or another, it is worth considering where we are in the Acts 2 story. Does your church have more than enough? Or do you need help? As churches, perhaps this is an opportunity to assess our situations and consider either a) giving, or b) asking for help.
As many churches are in discussion about ‘reopening’ in one form or another, will we reopen our hands in acts of giving? Or reopen them to receive in a time of need? When we live in mutuality, in covenant with one another, we may discover that giving and receiving are not such different acts.
The COVID-19 Church Engagement Fund is sponsored by Financial Shalom with generous gifts from, Resonate Global Mission, Back to God Ministries International, specific CRC congregations, and individual members.