Church and Social Restrictions

Main and Mulberry Podcast – Episode 1 w/ Rev. Jim Holland, St. Patrick Presbyterian Church

Congregations everywhere have been asked to celebrate their faith and worship from home, during stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19. On this episode of the Main and Mulberry Podcast, Anna Bell speaks with Reverend Jim Holland of St. Patrick Presbyterian Church in Collierville, TN about how his ministry has been affected in recent months.

Full Transcript Below:

AB: Hello everyone. I’m Anna Bell, and today I’m so very thankful to have Collierville’s St. Patrick Presbyterian Church, Senior Pastor, Reverend Jim Holland on with us today to talk about how the church plans to operate under social restrictions as businesses begin to reopen post COVID-19 shutdown. Reverend Holland, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Rev. Jim Holland: Well, thank you. This is kind of all I have to do now and these kind of meetings.

AB: One phone call after the next, right? I’d love to get started by learning kind of what your experience has been like personally, you know, having to shut the church doors and not having the fellowship that we’re all used to when we think about our churches. What, what have things been like for you these last few weeks?

JH: Uh, hard, hard, because the church by definition is sacramental. That means it’s an embodied expression. Just preaching to a camera… Uh, YouTube is, you know, thank God for it. 50 years ago, we wouldn’t have information in a fluid situation that’s always evolving. And so, we just, it is, it’s just hard. I mean, everybody’s feeling the strain of it. And I mean, we quickly pivoted to online, everything online, all my staff is doing stuff, children’s ministry is doing stuff online. My youth are connecting and like play games and do other things online. All our, all our community groups, which is probably the main place people connect. They use Zoom, and Marco polo, and social media apps and so, yeah. So it’s a, it’s kind of strange. Nobody could make this one up.

AB: No, that’s very true. I know. I was interested in how you and your staff have been staying connected with the church family and in particular, has it been difficult kind of reaching out to your older members who might not be emailing or on social media?

JH: Okay. So, so in one sense we’re sort of uniquely positioned for something like this because our church, we’re just big on community. I’m like, disciples can’t be made with information. Immersion like in the family and imitation, these are infintely more formative than having a class. So we’re not necessarily class driven. Yeah, most disciple-making we have is in homes and living rooms. So allow 80% of our adults are in what we call community groups. That’s 10 to 25 people that meet to know and be known, experienced Christ presence and their midst, and do mission together.

AB: So how have they been doing?

JH: So like for me, I’m a phone call away from being connected with most anybody or knowing how they’re doing. So it’s not like I can reach out to 500 people. There’s people have not talk to obviously or seen. But I stay connected with my leaders and so I sort of know, I mean, we have prayer requests to go around, so we sorta are in touch. We know with older members it’s like phone calls. I mean that, that’s about it.

AB: Go old school right? Just pick up the phone and go old school right?

JH: Yeah. So that’s sorta sort of, uh, how we do it. So, you know, I think it is, turns it more,  it’s, we’re more physically distance and social distance. I mean, because there are ways to stay connected. A phone call, a text, you know, these do mean something and we can’t minimize that. And so we just have to be more intentional because we’re not gathering. So, yeah. So like, uh, you know, I’m prayed through the people I prayed through and the people that are okay in more trouble, you know, they get more attention. I mean, I’m checking in, so my staff is continually checking out. I mean, and uh, we have met face to face maybe two times since, says finally, we just, we have big conference rooms and so people can set apart and so we’re able to communicate and sorta see what everybody’s doing and like, who needs pastoral care?

AB: Right. I mean, as a senior pastor, I’m sure you, your roles and responsibilities reach far beyond just the pulpit, you know, I know you’re, you’re probably having, you can’t make hospital visits and that sort of thing. Has that been hard?

JH:Yeah. It’s a poor substitute. I mean, I’ve done, Oh my gosh, a couple of funerals. One I did a funeral that was just a grave side because I said I wasn’t going anywhere. I’ve got it a five year old daughter with asthma. So I mean I’m not taking stuff back. I want to model more restraint then a cavalier attitude because loving your neighbor is sort of stand away from them to some extent and being cautious and wearing a mask and stuff like that. So, so the hospital visits and people being sick. Yes. I’ve got people sick that are, that have had hard news in this that all I can do is make a phone call..

AB:Say a little prayer.

JH:Right. Yeah.

AB:You mentioned, you know, kind of having to preach to your congregation in front of a camera. What is that been like? Not having the personal interaction, you know, with your members. So how have you been staying positive through the shut down period?

JH:Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, I think  I’ve got great supportive staff and elders that I walk in the light with so they know when I’m in despair. Nobody would be surprised if, I mean, people wouldn’t just all of a sudden leave. I mean everybody knows sorta where my soul is. If I’m having a bad day, I just sort of let everybody know that. So, you know, just sort of a sense of futility there is that sometimes, I mean anybody that says they’re not, it’s just lying. I mean, when you’re in the people business, so, so preaching to a camera is an interesting thing. I mean, when we went online, we already had, just by God’s Providence, we were already streaming stuff on YouTube, but we, we bought another camera so that it’s more interesting. It is a challenge, um, to talk when there’s no feedback, When I say.. like preaching is even a sacramental engagement. I mean, you’re queuing off people’s body language and, uh, anybody that teaches, knows that it’s a lot different if you’re online or if, if you, you can see nuance, so you can see people getting fidgety or maybe falling asleep.

AB: Yeah. You pick up on those cues.

JH: So, yeah, so you’re, so it is a dialogue in that sense. Maybe it’s a monologue that is a dialogue uniquely, because if you love people, you watch people and nobody wants to be either irrelevant or boring. And those are Cardinal sins of speaking to me, and I don’t care how good your information is and we have exciting information in the gospel. Yeah. So, so, yeah. So it is hard. It’s very hard, but you know, we do what we must.

AB: That’s right. That’s right. All right guys, I’m Anna Bell and today we have with us Reverend Jim Holland with St. Patrick’s Presbyterian church, kind of giving us an update on how the church has been operating during the COVID-19 shutdown. And now we’re in phase one of reopening businesses. So let’s kind of talk about reopening the churches. Reverend Holland, do you know when Saint Patrick’s plans to open back up and maybe talk to us about what the new normal is going to look like for you guys?

JH: Well, I think the saddest thing, I think when this all started, we just thought there would be a moment in time when we would all sort of get together and there would just be this massive feast, have food and drink, and then I can remember about halfway through this thing thinking – this is not going to happen. Where as my daughter said, we’ll all stagger out of this like moles that saw the sunshine for the first time and we won’t quite know how to act. Yeah. And so yeah, it’ll sort of be like the building of the second temple after the exile and people sort of wept. I mean, yeah. So, so for us, we’ve doubled down. We’ve invested more money like streaming capability that is obviously going to be our primary means of communication for awhile. And so we have put together a reopening plan that could possibly happen this Sunday under the strict guidelines…You know, we can seat 450 people and wouldn’t allow over a hundred people in the sanctuary. Nobody would touch anything. We, there’s nothing being passed. It would be almost like walking in Cosco. If you feel comfortable with that. We’ve surveyed our people and you know, a lot of people aren’t ready.

AB: Oh really? What kind of response did you get?

JH: kind of what I thought. I mean, you know, you’ve probably got 60% of people saying we’re not ready. And we’re just, we’re just posturing saying, you know, that’s good. If you’re immunocompromised, then you gotta elderly people, please stay away. So we’re thinking that this Sunday might be a pilot. We’ve not made the final call. And obviously watching the data, we’re watching what’s happening with the, if there’s going to be a spike in this and we can move to shut this thing down and so we’ll make a final call on Friday, whether we’re going to go forward this week or put it off a couple of weeks or whatever.

AB: What is the, the actual sanctuary hold normally?

JH: 450. So we, so we have got chairs spread out In like pods. Yeah. So it’s, so imagine 450 and now you only have a hundred people over a vast place. And so there ARE pods of two to five chairs where nobody has to be close and can socially space. So we assumed that we would put chairs of three to five. We don’t expect anybody with small children because we’re not doing nursery care, whereas there’s nothing like that. I mean, my children’s ministry, youth ministry, they’re just sort of on hold. And, uh, because there’s no place for that and you have small children, we just sort of know that it’s not realistic or wise to have children who… we’ve got scads of small children and they’re, they’re just gonna run, hug me.

AB: The children don’t know any different. They still want to hug and say hello and show their love, you know.

JH: my daughter, I don’t even hug my kids. I got grandkids. They kind of come over and we set outside. Uh, we don’t, we don’t even let them in the house and so we’re just trying to be wise there.

AB: Yeah. It sounds like that first Sunday though is going to be a little bit different. I’m sure it’d be a wonderful thing to get together, but it sounds like it’ll be a little different.

JH:No, it’ll be a long, long runway. Yeah. I mean, it may be two years. Who knows? We don’t know and nobody knows and we may not do it this week. I feel like people will start a reopening in the next two or three weeks. Yeah. but, you know, we’re strictly adhering to the 25%, the spacing rolls. We’re sanitizing, nobody’s opening doors. We’ve got sanitation everywhere and there’ll be no meeting. It’ll be in and out. That in itself is, will be sad. I mean, it would be good to see people, I have some people, so to look at preach too, and you know, we’ll wear mask if we’re not on the stage.

AB:Can you imagine a Sunday and everybody’s wearing wearing their mask?

JH: I think that’s the way it will be. Yeah. And that’s okay. I’m for that. I mean, I wear a mask when I go in stores to keep people safe from me.

AB:That’s right. That’s right. Well, listen, is there, is there anything you guys have been doing during the shutdown that you think you’ll continue with now that we’re back into this new normal?

JH: Yeah. Well, I do think this, I mean, you know, it has, you know, we’ve been doing food pantries, like mobile pantry at our church. Like we started that a lot more. Okay. So once a month, uh, we’re in partnership with, uh, neighborhood Christian center and have one of their people that are in our church that does ministry in Collierville. So yeah, we’ve, we’ve up that tremendously. Most of our people are, are just sort of in communities on mission. And I guess the hardest part has been the missional element, like outreach and being useful. Like, uh, how are you useful? So your neighbor, well it seems like a lot of ways you’re useful is you don’t look them in the, you know, you don’t hug them and you sort of stay away, but they’re still people. I mean, you know, we’ve just opened it up. We were in contact with older people and, and there’s, there’s always people, people are itching to be helpful, whether it’s contribute with meals, and maybe, you know, I went around this one person’s house and I mean, I just stood on the front porch and prayed with them. Um, because that was as good as I could do, but it felt like to be present. And so, yeah, there were some things. I mean, we, we’ve done, like with children’s ministry, we’ve, we’ve all, my staff has some kind of online presence. Yeah. That, and like one of the things I’ve done at that, uh, I realized how much I love is I love to tell stories. So I started reading books to kids online every Friday at 10 o’clock. And so now I look for children’s stories as much as I look for like novels and, uh, theology books. Uh, we’ve done some, we’ve done some prayer and hand stuff online, but we’re sort of the end of that. I mean, we don’t think zoom is sustainable, we don’t think. I mean, so like I just met with community group leaders talking about when we might just sit around in a lawn chair with no food or anything. Like that’s the first phase outside. Uh, yeah, I mean, my group, I mean with older people, prep comp will encourage people to be safe and not reckless or foolish. And um, you know, who knows when it’ll be for a week and eat together again. I mean, I just don’t know.

AB: I know there’s a lot of what ifs, but maybe Reverend Holland, if you’d be willing, is there a positive message that you, you’d be willing to share with all of us who are wondering about our churches and what the future’s gonna look like?

JH: Okay. So here’s, here’s one positive. Here’s one positive. I have thought about. Uh, so, so we’re already in a disembodied state almost because of technology and the ability to travel, right? So I think, okay, so everybody’s cooking at home. And so no matter whether you’re rich or poor, the human things have never changed. Uh, books, things that feed your soul, our community with people. Uh, and, and like, I can teach you to live a big life in your backyard, uh, if you don’t have money to travel or do anything else. And so, so one of the takeaways, I do think that there are people have found there’s a lot of, in the mundane and, uh, that eating meals together is really a good thing. People have learned to be bartenders make delicious cocktails and they doubled down on learning how to cook if they hadn’t. And, I mean, food is like magical. So I think a lot of people have done that and, and people have talked about it’s been a good thing to be with her family a lot.

AB: What about food for the soul? Is there something that you might add?

JH: So here’s the other thing, I think. I do think that this could, and this will, one of the consequences of this because we’re such a screen driven place, we tend to think we have friends if we have a thousand likes on Facebook. Yeah. So the tendency might be to say, well, we can do community on zoom. We, so now we don’t have to get out of the house. We can, uh, just kinda set it calm in this sort of disembodied state and see people and, but the reaction is exact opposite. I mean, we’re made to know and be known. We’re made with design deficiencies, uh, so that God can only meet certain things in my life, not directly when I’m praying and reading the Bible, but indirectly through other human beings. I mean, we’re built like that. We come out of the womb like that. I’ve got a little girl that was a child to trauma I adopted. And one of the things I want, you can’t develop as a human being without touch. Yeah. And so what I think might happen, and I’m praying for this is it people would say that there’s a lot of all right. Technology or progress that just because we can do a thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a human thing or we’re able to enhance our humanity. So, so I think one of the bad consequences of this could be, okay, people just said, well, I can do everything online. Yeah. But I don’t think that’s happening. I think this is showed the cracks and a lot of that and that there is no substitute for face to face and not. And so as we emerge from this, hopefully, uh, we will learn that how much we do need community and how much we do need people close by. And not just our family, but people that become like family. Right. I mean a lot of people sheltering in place that don’t know people. That just said that are single and said, I can’t do this. I need a few people that, you know, if we go down and the ship, we’ll go down together. And uh,

AB: Speaker 3: I don’t know about you, but I’ve talked more with my neighbors in my yard and them in their yard, then really since we’ve moved here, we have talked so much with our neighbors, you know, just like you said, yearning for that connection.

JH:Yeah. And I’ve heard a lot of people that have said, gosh, I don’t even know my neighbors, but now we sort of honor act with them and we see them. And you know, one of the, one of the problems that we, we, we, we face as humans and we moved to suburbia because we, I just want to sort of be anonymous. I mean, we can, we can be friends with people who, or a thousand miles away, but at the end of the day, if your world falls apart, the quality of your recovery is probably going to depend be dependent on how many people that you’re close to that are going to sort of help you pick up the pieces. And that’s going to happen to all of us. We, and I don’t know how it’ll happen, but just life is fragile. And so now if you have a network of people, life will be a lot bearable. So yeah, I think that there are things I see that could be, uh, you know, as, as a practitioner of the human things and what it means to be human. What do we have to have to be human? I mean, all our technology go away.

AB:What, what would you say are those maybe two or three key things that we’ve got to have then?

JH: Human things? I mean, okay, so obviously for.. human thriving,I think we’re all looking for human thriving. And so I think in terms of obviously good work, um, uh, step that stimulate the imagination, uh, which are people, people I think is the primary thing, a rich interior life. Mmm. That you know how to be intimate but with God and people and um, you know, obviously books and gardening. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of people that are growing vegetables now. I mean, these are all things that whether you’re a King or a servant, whether you’re, you’re a millionaire or you are middle class, you don’t have to chase novelty. I mean, God has just seemed to satisfy our need for change, not with novelty, but with the same old thing. This sort of comes around and seasons. Right.

AB: Oh, I do, I do. That makes sense. Yeah. No, I love it. Well, Reverand Holland we sincerely appreciate your time and your insight today and kind of letting us know what St. Patrick’s is doing and maybe we can all just keep up the pieces and keep thriving, you know!

JH: I hope so. I know that that’s what life is about, human thriving. And that’s what the gospel is about.

AB: Until until next time, I’m Anna bale sending you all well wishes as we all navigate through this new normal.

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