Shared Ministry at Live Oak During the Pandemic

I submitted this report in examining the ministry of Live Oak during this past year. It’s incomplete, as I probably could write a book on the past year (no, I don’t want to; it was hard enough living it the first time). But I thought our members might be interested in my analysis of the past 15 months. What did I leave out? Let me know at

In re-reading Michal Shamai’s Systemic Interventions for Collective and National Trauma, I feel that as difficult as the past 15 months have been, Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church has much to feel proud of. By design and by luck, we have been addressing the main needs Shamai identifies in communities going through a traumatic event:

1) Protecting human rights: Our situation is different from the dominant situation Shamai addresses (social workers going into an area hit by disaster) but her point is the need for care for all, with attention on the most vulnerable. From the beginning, Live Oak looked at the big, sobering picture: this was literally a matter of life and death. We jumped into action, studied the developing understanding of the science of Covid-19, and made decisions prioritizing the survival of all of our members. At the beginning of the pandemic, this included members helping members through delivering needed groceries (during shortages), donating to the ministerial discretion fund for those members who needed financial aid, and helping with meals for ill members. When a freak winter storm and power grid failure meant that members were without heat or water, members brought other members into their homes, and helped the wider community with water needs. After the vaccine became available to a limited population, we continued with our online activities in order to protect those unable to be vaccinated.

2) Reestablishing social support within the community: Live Oak provided regular opportunities for social support through establishing geographic groups of members and periodically encouraging groups to stay in contact with one another; weekly social gatherings such as Sack Lunch with the Minister and Sunday Fellowship time; gatherings of groups such as the Senior Coffee group and Men’s group; faith development opportunities like Beloved Conversations, children’s RE, OWL, chalice circles, and Acorn groups, and thematic groups such as the Stitching Circle, Women’s Labyrinth group, and Meditation. As Dr. Shamai writes, “Effective social support gives the sense of being loved and a sense of belonging.”

3) Restructuring routine: The impact of helping affected people establish new routines is significant -“The ability to create routine is proof of preservation of resources, despite the stressful situation, therefore preventing escalation of stress.” From the very beginning of the pandemic, Live Oak maintained existing routines and created new ones. Worship happened every single Sunday: we had our last in-person service on March 15, 2020, and were online the following Sunday. Even during the power outage/winter storm, we held online worship. The regular business meetings of the church moved online, and proceeded as normal: Board, Exec Team, Healthy Community Team, etc. Children had a story in every worship service, activity pages every Sunday, and religious education classes. We created a special page called “What’s Happening” and encouraged members to go there every morning to see if there was something that day that they wanted to attend. Several members have shared that having a regular routine of seeing other members online has been what got them through this.

4) Providing mental health/psychosocial services: Pastoral Care needs expanded far beyond the norm during this time (of course) as members dealt with the horror and grief of a global pandemic, the isolation of quarantine, and the overwhelm of having to do work and school online (or conversely, the terror of having to physically go to work, knowing that every day potentially exposed them to a deadly virus).

So, the concept of “pastoral care” was broadened, too. One-on-meetings, via zoom, were still available (with the minister, religious educator, and pastoral care team keeping careful boundaries about not offering therapy we were not qualified to give), but the congregation itself offered pastoral care to one another via small groups, drive-thru events, deeper check-ins even at business meetings, etc. We experimented and adjusted. A weekly “Vespers” gathering worked for a while, then dwindled, so we ceased. One of the pastoral care projects Live Oak should be especially proud of was our “25 Days of Advent.” This was all about pastoral care. We anticipated that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas was going to be extremely painful for many members, and a team of Live Oak volunteers created bundles for every member household, containing a surprise for every day, Dec. 1-25. The gratitude for those bundles was touching, and enthusiastic.

Conclusion: Live Oak ministered to each other within the very limiting confines of an aerosol-spread deadly viral pandemic. It is inescapable that some aspects of care could not be given due to the reality of the situation: physical gatherings were potentially lethal. It should be said, too, that we had limitations on our capacity to care for one another and the larger community because every member was impacted by the pandemic in some way. As mentioned in my June 8 newsletter column, if the pandemic had only happened to one household in the congregation, we would have overwhelmed them with love, care, and casseroles. But the pandemic happened to every one of us.

But within those extreme limitations, we persevered. We continued acting in alignment with our values, our mission, and our covenant. I hope that we proved to ourselves that though we cannot keep bad things from happening, even in the midst of significant trauma, we can deal with crisis, continuing with the work of this church, chief of which is to love one another. This year showed us that we are stronger than we knew.Source:  Shamai, Michal. Systemic Interventions for Collective and National Trauma. Taylor and Francis.