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Church during COVID leads discussion in listening sessions


Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond, Jr., listens to a participant at the listening session held Sept. 21 in Cordele. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

MOULTRIE — The listening session at First Baptist Church here on Sept. 21 echoed much of the discussion at sessions prior and since.

Standing in the church's fellowship hall, Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr., received input from pastors throughout the area. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, he heard feedback on the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and Southern Baptist Convention. The majority of the time, however, was spent listening to pastors paint a picture of the reality of ministry during COVID-19.

Aaron Moore, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Sycamore, reads notes of his group's discussion at the listening session held at First Baptist Cordele. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

"I'm tired," one said simply. He was joyful at the role of being a pastor, but navigating the tempestuous currents of ministry and culture these days is taxing.

"The general consensus of our group is there has been an increase in mental fatigue, especially over the last of summer," said another participant. "You're trying to balance the logistics of what to do with church while maintaining a connection with those staying at home because of the virus. You're also trying to balance various opinions and emotions regarding. It's got us all tired out."

Pastors broke into small groups to talk through a topic before presenting the results of those discussions to others in attendance. The first discussion centered on overall pastor and church wellness. The second was for feedback on the GBMB restructuring and recommendations for improvement. The third discussion focused on issues and concerns with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Andy Cashwell, pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Moultrie, speaks at the Sept. 21 afternoon listening session. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

The first session was held Sept 14 at First Baptist Albany, continuing Monday at First Cordele that morning before the Moultrie session that afternoon. On Sept. 22 Hammond spoke with pastors at Northside Baptist in Milledgeville and Martinez Baptist Church before trekking across the state for a Sept. 23 session at First Baptist Church in Emerson.

The sessions will resume next week and continue into October at the following locations:

  • Sept. 30, 10 a.m., Salem Baptist, Dalton
  • Oct. 1, 2 p.m., Prince Avenue Baptist Church, Bogart
  • Oct. 5, 2 p.m., West Rome Baptist, Rome
  • Oct. 7, 10 a.m., First Baptist Sylvania
  • Oct. 8, 10 a.m., First Baptist Peachtree City
  • Oct. 8, 2 p.m., Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Decatur
  • Oct. 19, 10 a.m., First Baptist Douglas
  • Oct. 19, 2 p.m., Calvary Baptist, Jesup
  • Oct. 22, 10 a.m., Franklin Road Baptist, LaGrange
  • Oct. 22, 2 p.m., M28 Church, Atlanta
  • Oct. 27, 10 a.m., First Baptist Snellville
  • Oct. 27, 2 p.m., Ebenezer Baptist, Toccoa
  • Oct. 29 10 a.m., Calvary Baptist, Columbus
  • Oct. 29, 2 p.m., First Baptist Dublin

Click here for a list according to regions.

Resources for help

Earlier in the day at First Baptist Cordele, pastors shared the observation that what had been an option for some in their congregation had now become a choice.

"One of the problems we've noticed is that people who were staying home because it was necessary have decided to stay home. There's a greater amount of excuse-making on why they're not in church and quite a bit of apathy," opined one participant.

Another speaker said the message must be communicated to deacons and lay leadership that a pastor needs to feel he has the license to pursue counseling. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board, he said, can help with that.

Samuel Ayala, Georgia Baptist Missions consultant for the Southwest Region, shares during a discussion. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

"Those deacons and leadership need to be conditioned to hear that their pastor needs a little help emotionally to perform the best he can. On the other hand, I need to be able to let my pride go and allow those discussions to happen without feeling like I'm sitting on pins and needles," he noted.

Hammond reassured attendees that sentiments such as those from their peers are the norm.

"You're not alone," he pointed out. "Everything we've known has changed. You can't go through all of this without being affected mentally, spiritually, and physically."

Chris Reynolds, Georgia Baptist Pastor Wellness consultant for the West Central and Southwest regions, shared several resources with attendees.

"We have a relationship with Eagles Landing Christian Counseling for those needing help," he said. "There is also a crisis number – (800) 715-4225 – for you as well. One of us is always on call 24 hours a day at (770) 936-5590."

Gordon Cloud, pastor of First Baptist Camilla, reacts to the discussion in Moultrie. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

Hammond added that counseling services through the Mission Board wouldn't just be for pastors, but for their wives and children as well as other church ministry staff.

Pastors cited a lack of personal interaction with their church as a main stressor.

"COVID changed everything I do," said one. "I couldn't stop in to visit like before. Couldn't see other people. It ripped me apart. You stand up in church to preach and it's for a camera.

"This experience has led to us 'moving away' from the congregation and my wife feels it even more than I do. You just feel so separated from people."

Despite the challenges, there have also been a few advantages to the last few months, participants said.

"It's been a chance to make some changes you've been thinking about," stated one. "Whether it's about the way you take up offering, changing up the welcome time, or adding a service, now is the time to do it. Change can be done right now, so examine what needs to be done and do it."

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