“When the pandemic hit, we knew that congregation councils were having to make all kinds of very hard decisions,” says Deacon Tammy Jones West, North Carolina Synod Assistant to the Bishop. “So we gathered names of council presidents and treasurers and started meeting with them monthly by Zoom. And that’s grown into a really amazing group of folks.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Tammy and others on NC Synod staff were already thinking about how to best support congregation council leaders in their work. In the pandemic, a simple opportunity presented itself. Synod staff invited presidents of congregation councils to gather together on Zoom once a month for a time of connecting, sharing resources, and supporting one another.
“They’re dealing with the same issues and all trying to be faithful in their leadership roles,” says Tammy. “But they were also saying, ‘What do we do?’”
Marion Bish is president of the congregation council at Calvary Lutheran Church, Concord. She was one of many council presidents across the synod who found themselves in uncharted waters when COVID-19 forced congregations out of their buildings. “The monthly Zoom calls for council leaders have been so important to me for several reasons,” says Marion. “First, it was strengthening to hear others share similar issues in their leadership. I did not feel so alone in trying to navigate such challenging times.”
In the Zoom meetings, the synod staff led devotions, highlighted resources, and shared information from their various portfolios. They also welcomed guests to present on relevant subjects such as mutual ministry teams, stewardship and generosity, and congregation constitutions. And of course, they helped each other through the difficult decisions related to COVID-19.
“The meetings reminded me that, as a church, we are a microcosm of society in many ways,” says Marion. “We are people with diverse experiences and backgrounds, views and opinions. As such, challenges are to be expected in navigating something as threatening as a pandemic, even within a community of faith. I found great support in hearing the journey stories of others, as well as hearing about the details of the synod’s (Re-Gathering) task force. I was able to ask questions that gave clarity to my thinking. I could then take that back to the full council for consideration as we navigated our own processes and protocols.”
In such an unprecedented time, congregation councils are challenged in considering so many changing factors and weighing so many considerations. The Zoom meetings help center council leaders in their purpose of leading congregations in mission and keeping people safe.
“To be honest, the hardest part of this year has been the difficulty in threading the needle between opposing views, and making decisions and leading in a way where the love of our neighbor, being Christ to the least of us, is the guiding and driving force,” Marion says. “Fear has a way of pushing that aside at times. I have found that I must overtly and clearly embed that key principle of love of neighbor in every communication with the congregation.”
Monthly Zoom meetings with council presidents resume this fall on the third Tuesday of the month beginning Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Over the summer, Tammy interviewed council presidents across the synod about their concerns, celebrations, and needs, and is using their input to design the meeting agendas for the rest of 2021 and 2022. Synod staff sends an e-newsletter to council presidents monthly to further equip them with information and resources.
Tammy says, “This is such a wealth of faithful folks and impressive people. They love the church and are willing to serve.” Then she adds with a laugh, “And they generally still love the church when they’re finished serving.”
Despite the challenges, Marion is glad to serve the church. To future church leaders, she says, “My advice to any prospective lay leader would be to pray without ceasing, remember that we are all imperfect and fall short, rely on grace for self and others, and never forget that God does not call the equipped; rather, he/she equips the called.”