Eliza Huie is is the director of counseling at McLean Bible Church in the DC Metro area. As a Christian counselor, she has an educated perspective on how isolation due to quarantine may be affecting your congregation—even as you gather together once again.
“Is it almost over?”
This question is what I heard every week from my little boy after he refused to go to children’s ministry. Why he wanted to stay with mom and dad rather than eat snacks, hear stories and color robed Bible characters is beyond me. But each week he joined us in “big church,” and about halfway through the service the inevitable question was whispered: “Is it almost over?”
Today many people can relate to this question. Though the COVID-19 isolation has brought some unique enjoyments (a freer schedule, working from our couch and worshiping in our pj’s), for most it has brought challenges, and we all are beginning to ask if it is almost over.
It is actually a question the church must take seriously. When the lifting of stay-at-home regulations will happen is not yet known, and it will likely vary from state to state. The church must consider now the many steps for reopening. Logistics on how to reopen are going to be almost as tricky as it was to move everything online. There will need to be a plan, maybe multiple plans. And while transitioning back to church will require new strategies for gathering, part of your church’s plan needs to have a mindful awareness of the psychological impact this season has had on your people.
Learning from the history of SARS and other illness-related quarantines, it is clear that mental, emotional and relational health will have suffered under the period of social distancing. Many churches have begun addressing emotional health already with conversations happening online about faith and the realities of anxiety, fears and stress—even topics like depression, loneliness and suicide, which are less commonly addressed in church, are getting some airtime. But there are some issues people are struggling with that will likely not be considered.
The following three areas of struggle may be unexpected but are sure to show up in your congregation as you reengage. I share them to prepare churches and to offer suggestions on how to take an understanding approach to those who may be struggling with these and other psychological issues as we join back together.
The purpose of this article is to be informative and practical. The hope is that it will help the church to take sensitive measures in light of the potential aftershocks of COVID-19 isolation. Some of the terms will be clinical, but I hope to provide street-level understanding of these issues coupled with biblical direction for care.
3 Psychological Issues to Watch Out For
Agoraphobia and OCD Tendencies
What does the church need to know?
Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your house, and OCD is a hyper-focus anxiety or fear about something that drives a needed action (i.e., repetitive checking or ritualistic cleaning). Both of these are psychiatric diagnoses, but a person doesn’t have to have a diagnosis for symptomatic inclinations to interrupt their life.