Advent is one of a few times each year when a pastor sees the full range of people who are engaged with the congregation. Even those with the most distant connections show up to Christmas services. But is that happening in 2021?

The health precautions required in response to COVID-19 have changed nearly all the clues that indicate the “who” and the “how close” of church involvement. Preachers can no longer see clearly the faces of the people in the pews, and they may have little information about who is watching online. Meanwhile, in the midst of the isolation, many churchgoers are taking stock of all their commitments.

During this 2021 Advent season, we will be searching for familiar faces and discerning who is ready to return to work within the congregation — and where else people are investing their time.

– How can we name and develop strategies that account for the shifting of affiliations? Considering primary, secondary and tertiary relationships, and the significance of each, is one approach.

– Alban author and church consultant John Wimberly helps us think about the distinctions between high tech and high touch. He urges us not to lose sight of meaningful online communities while we rebuild in-person encounters.

– This rebuilding can be overwhelming, though. A friend of mine recently decided to retire. He had developed a comprehensive music ministry for both his congregation and community, but that collapsed during the pandemic. He could not imagine starting over. Alban author and church consultant Susan Beaumont urges those of us who are feeling overwhelmed not to rush past the feeling. “Overwhelmed” is not a problem to be solved; it is a feeling that requires tending as much as (or more than) the work itself.


Who is with you?

By David L. Odom

High tech and high touch

By John Wimberly

Before you go…

Two weeks ago, the Rev. Prince Rivers urged fellow pastors not to hurry through this season. This week, he is taking his own advice and observing a break from curating the Alban Weekly. He returns next week.

Church members are not the only ones reflecting on their commitments and affiliations in this season. Many of us are considering our priorities, as well as the scope and pace of work. A typical December includes dramatic changes in pace: from frantic to quiet. How can you observe these shifts in a way that provides time for rest and reflection?

What a pastor decides is important in their own life has a profound impact on the commitments and affiliations of their church members. Leading a congregation and caring for oneself are so closely linked.


David L. Odom

Director, Alban at Duke Divinity

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