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One of things that stands out to me from the last few weeks of COVID-19 response is that besides being in a constantly highly reactive and responsive mode as governmental directives change by the hour, we are also in constant triage mode, assigning degrees of urgency to our responses to the situation around us. 

The shock of the past few weeks sent us all into emergency mode as we ramped up for physical distancing and reimagining social connection. Everything has felt like it was in the red zone—either urgent, or immediate, or both. We decided whether or how to hold worship services, children’s ministries, and youth group online. We scrambled to provide resources for faith nurture at home and for small groups. We promoted online giving and virtual pastoral care opportunities.

But I wonder, as we settle into a reality where there is no new normal yet, if it might be time to rest from trying to recreate programs for an online venue and perhaps do a faith formation triage instead. 

What might faith formation triage look like in your congregation? Maybe it’s as simple as asking where you see your people’s faith being stretched in healthy or unhealthy ways. Or maybe it’s encouraging families to consider what spiritual disciplines they might need to take on during this time. 

Instead of trying to replicate all of our church programs to online platforms, what if triage for a pastoral response centered on the four basic spiritual needs each person has—what Faith Formation Ministries calls “the Building Blocks of Faith”? These four needs are: 

  • to belong to Christ and His Body, 

  • to know God’s story and one’s place in that story

  • to have a sustaining hope

  • to find one’s calling and be equipped in it. 

What if your congregation’s triage entailed discerning which of these four has an urgency to it right now and which requires standard support? 

Personal triage might result in people admitting, for example, “I don’t need another online anything as I work from home, but I urgently need a daily reminder of the hope I have in Jesus as I face potential layoff or downsizing of my job.”

Family triage might result in people saying: “We have access to all sorts of online resources to keep our kids engaged in God’s Story, but help us talk with them about why it matters so much.”

Congregational triage might result in a desire to explore our calling in such a time as this and to think more creatively about how to reach out to our community even while we practice social distancing.

Our faith is being formed by this pandemic in ways we have yet to fully understand. As theologian and author John Westerhoff reminded us, “Formation takes place whether we like it or not. You are always being formed by something.”

How can we shepherd this formative time by not racing to programming or busyness and still support each other even in times of physical distancing?


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