#Common Good Story 4: Help for and from the many ministries OUTSIDE our congregations
Throughout the pandemic, much attention has been given to the lives of congregations, and rightfully so. Congregations are a very important expression of how we live in faith together and there have been a lot of big questions to ask! Should congregations meet in person, or should they not? How do we safely reopen buildings? How do we connect with parishioners when we don’t see them in person? How do we build relationships with people interacting with our churches whom we have never met? Colleagues have spent a lot of time discussing and learning together. Congregational leaders have leaned on each other for creative problem solving and wisdom.
But ministry within our synod is much bigger than congregations. We also include chaplains, campus ministries, colleges, a seminary, outdoor ministries, and more. How have these specialized ministries been faring throughout the pandemic? What does ministry look like for us who do not live in the same towns (even states or countries) as the people we serve? What does ministry look like when we typically depend on a specific population in a specific time and place? How do you lead a population that moved home and may not return? When your “congregation” is already transient, how do you maintain relationships? You can maintain relationships on social media, but how do you build new ones? What does ministry look like when we have to shift everything that we do, not just to an online presence, but to an entirely new idea? These are extremely hard questions, made even harder when there are very few colleagues nearby in similar ministries to lean on.
Each Spring, campus ministries within Southern Ohio Synod partner with youth and family ministries and outdoor ministries to provide an important opportunity for high school youth – the Connect Retreat. This retreat combines worship, Bible study, small group conversations, and more as we wrestle with important faith questions and practice being in relationship. This year, due to COVID-19, the Connect Retreat had to be cancelled, but Deacon Dan Jacob, Chapel Ministry Associate at Wittenberg University, spearheaded a project to move the Connect Retreat to an online resource. With the help of Jacob’s Porch (OSU), Edge House (UC), Embrace (Capital University), The Bridge (OU), Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio (LOMO), and Gary Pecuch (Southern Ohio Synod Youth and Family Ministry Coach), the Connect Retreat became a high-quality faith resource for families or small groups to use at home. This retreat includes a learning guide, videos of teachings, songs, meal graces, prayer stations, and a few other digital resources. The Connect Retreat is proof that we are indeed stronger and better together as each of our ministries were able to contribute what we do best. I am grateful for these colleagues and the gifts they have shared.
I am also grateful for the national network of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries. This organization represents 120 outdoor ministry sites in 90 outdoor ministry organizations. Each one of these ministries wrestled all Spring with what camp looks like during a pandemic. I spent many hours on Zoom calls talking procedures, best practices, and supporting my colleagues. If it weren’t for this network of people who truly understood the unique challenges of outdoor ministry, I would have surely felt alone this year. I have cried with colleagues that also cancelled their traditional camp programming. I have laughed with friends at the absurdity of some of our ludicrous ideas. I have watched in awe as colleagues recreated how they do ministry, how they shifted plans on a dime, and shared their best ideas freely.
Finally, I am thankful for colleagues within this synod who have shared their wisdom about technology with me. While outdoor ministry may not look the same as congregational ministry, we have shared challenges with learning how to use Zoom breakout rooms, creating custom YouTube channels, and choosing which mics work best for recording videos. I am grateful for people who have told me they have used LOMO videos in their worship services or Vacation Bible School programs, it reminds me that what I am doing matters. Most of all, I am thankful for the friendship of colleagues throughout the synod who I know I can call at any time as we walk through this season of life, stronger and better together.
Deacon Jenny Frantz
Director of Congregation Relations and Camp Luther
Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio