One of the joys of being a Regional Pastor is to meet with a group of colleagues and be part of the banter that fills the room. With monthly meetings, we come to know each other well and can laugh and cry together comfortably.
One of the losses of this time of pandemic has been losing that time of meeting together face-to-face. The personal contact of our monthly meetings is something that is missed. The fact that we miss it is a powerful statement on the value of that time together.
In place of our monthly gatherings, we have set up a monthly call on Zoom. As the stresses were more pronounced, we increased that to a bi-monthly call. This gave colleagues a chance to air frustrations, receive encouragement, and share stories with fellow pastors who understood the perspective and pressures they were experiencing.
Because of the relationships that have developed through our peer group gatherings over the years, we have come to know each other well and to recognize “typical” behaviour in one another.
So when one of my colleagues on our monthly Zoom call was quiet and didn’t throw in the occasional snide comment as usual, I had a sense that something was not well. While one of the drawbacks of a virtual meeting is that it’s harder to see the non-verbal cues, the reserved behaviour of this person was noticeable to me.
Rather than centre them out on the call, I chose to call this individual after the group call was finished. We were able to have an extended conversation about the personal pressures they were feeling, the frustrations with church, the struggles with family dynamics, and the challenge to be a fresh voice in a recorded message for the congregation.
This person appreciated the opportunity to share their personal struggles in a safe space, without the risk of being misunderstood by others in the group. In fact, he wasn’t even sure what he could have said in the group, because he was trying to figure out his thoughts and feelings. Our one-on-one interaction gave him the space to do that processing.
It was a few days later when I heard from his spouse how thankful she was that I had called her husband. She saw him struggling and was hurting for him, but did not know what else she could do. She saw the Lord’s hand in that phone call and the blessing and peace it gave to her spouse.
Our monthly gatherings have built a foundation of understanding and support. There is so much value in the regular contact, to get to know each other well. For me, it was also a reminder of how important it is to pay attention to the conversation, not only to what is being said, but also to the non-verbal cues that are being given. It was a reminder to encourage those who attend each month, but also to notice those who are absent or those who are unusually quiet.
A phone call, listening to the nudge of the Spirit, can bring timely encouragement and hope.