Every June, many United Methodist clergy families learn to unpack quickly and begin ministry anew. Local pastors, elders, and deacons experience the joys and the trials of moving to new communities throughout their lifetime of service. I’ve had the honor of serving five churches in this conference, and each congregation certainly has its own personality and worship style. Effective clergy learn to move nimbly from high church to contemporary worship, from city life to a rural setting, from leading a youth retreat on the Florida coast to speaking at a United Methodist Women circle in west Alabama.

This truth supports my contention: there is no one better to lead the church during a pandemic, such as we find ourselves in now, than United Methodist clergy! No, we pastors didn’t take a course on Pandemic Leadership 101, but everything that we have learned in our studies and in our ministry has equipped us to lead well during these challenging days.

We have taken courses on theology and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that our faith is sure and unshakable. We have also learned that the methods we use to worship can change to meet people where they are! After all, if John Wesley can preach outside by the mines and in the street, we can certainly adapt to holding online and drive-in church!

Leadership during these turbulent times is all about clinging tightly to the core of our faith while constantly adapting to the challenges before us.

Our United Methodist theology is about temporal needs

as well as eternal concerns. Th erefore, United Methodist

clergy can take the lead today on safe food distribution in

our communities, supporting healthcare workers with supplies

and encouragement, and working with mission partners

combatting the increases in domestic violence and

abuse. Taking to heart the greatest commandments to love

God and love our neighbor, we have shifted pastoral visits to

phone trees, Zoom calls, and driveway visits. We have quietly

paid power bills and rent for those whose needs are rising

to the surface. We have reached out to connect with other

churches to plan online Vacation Bible School, videoed Sunday

school lessons, and learned how to apply for government

loans to keep the staff of local churches employed.

Pastors have used adaptive leadership as we fi rmly focus

on our shared mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ

for the transformation of the world.” All the while, we have

counseled with members of our church families for hours

on the phone. We know those in our churches who have

had the virus and were on respirators, because their family

members tell us in pastoral confi dence. Our hearts have

hurt with workers and business owners who don’t know how

they will recover economically. We have heard the shame

in the voices of those who are too embarrassed to admit

that they need food. With compassion and grace, we have

received the rants of those who think this is all a conspiracy.

All the while, we wonder how we can ever use hymnals, pass

off ering plates, adequately disinfect nurseries, and so much

more. Can we answer every question or concern? Of course

not. But we continue to proclaim the Good News and empower

the church to be God’s instrument in this world.

Even in our moments of doubt and fear, we lead forward

with the wisdom passed down to us from all of the faithful

who have invested in us. As the Gaither hymn reminds us,

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all

fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is

worth the living, just because He lives.” Th at kind of faith,

nurtured by the Stegall Foundation and its generous supporters,

empowers the clergy of our conference to lead without

fear into God’s future, constantly adapting our ministry

to share the Good News with the world. After all, we are

United Methodist pastors! We are called to love God and

love our neighbor wherever we are appointed and whatever

may come our way.

Ministry during COVID-19

By Rev. Robin C. Wilson

Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Opelika, AL

Member, Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors