(RNS) — In 2020, attendance was soaring at Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, North Carolina. Giving was steady. The church was getting ready to send more than 25 people on a mission trip.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
And then — just as Emerywood had canceled all its plans and adjusted to outdoor worship to slow the spread of the virus — came the murder of George Floyd and the summer’s mass protests against racial violence.
As the Black senior minister of a predominantly white Southern church with an address on Country Club Lane, Timothy Peoples said, he told his congregation, “You can’t call me ‘pastor’ and ‘n—–‘ at the same time.”
In the middle of it all, the minister said, he had a breakdown.
Peoples isn’t the only clergyperson to face challenges pastoring through the pandemic, according to the results of the #PandemicPastoring report released Thursday (Sept. 1) by researcher Eileen Campbell-Reed.
Campbell-Reed, visiting associate professor of pastoral theology and care at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and creator of the “Three Minute Ministry Mentor” podcast and video blog, surveyed more than 100 Christian pastors, chaplains, campus ministers and lay leaders from more than 20 denominations between June 2020 and April 2022.
Participants included clergy she had been following for more than a decade as part of the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project, as well as ministry and lay leaders from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s Helping Pastors Thrive initiative.
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched from that first spring into summer, Campbell-Reed said, she realized its impact on ministry wasn’t going to be short-lived. At the same time, ministry leaders were steering their congregations through pressing issues of racism, gender inequity and increasing partisan divisions.
She wanted to learn how these “multiple pandemics” were changing the jobs — and lives — of pastors and other ministry leaders.
“I think we have indeed entered into a new era of ministry,” Campbell-Reed said Thursday, announcing the findings of her report in a webinar hosted by Good Faith Media.
“I didn’t really know that until I delved deeply into this data.”
Campbell-Reed was joined in the webinar by Peoples and other clergy from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church (USA). None of the clergy in the webinar were participants in the #PandemicPastoring report’s surveys and interviews.