Thanks to Laura Stephens-Reed, Clergy & Congregational Coach, for sharing these brilliant approaches to getting back together, getting to know one another better than ever, and getting our congregations into a post-Covid state of mind that is anything but a return to what was.

While admitting that “Covid wasn’t and isn’t a laughing matter”, Stephens-Reed suggests “challenging the pandemic’s lingering power over us by getting playful with the absurdity and isolation of the past year”. Her suggestions, found in Re-gathering & Re-introductions, Part 1, are fantastic.

Keep in mind that some folks may not have been a part of the congregation pre-pandemic. Let your language of inclusion be diverse, open, welcoming, and aware of newcomers in the extreme. In fact, let fun events be an opportunity to invite newcomers to join you: it could be a community-wide event with other congregations and organizations to fill out the numbers and get people back into in-person gatherings with a sense of ease.

You can add to this list with all sorts of ideas:

  • Have a toilet paper evening wear designer challenge (a la bridal showers) can let some peoples’ creativity take center stage while revealing in the presence of adequate amounts of toilet paper and celebration that (in some places) we are able to get dressed up and go places.
  • Recipe swap: pick a theme or leave it wide open: baking, bread, soups & stews, comfort food, deep fried, etc., etc., etc. Invite folks to share their family or traditional favorites that saw them through the tough times, or things they found or invented to keep dining interesting.
  • Invite local restaurants to cater the event to celebrate reopening and dining out.
  • Hobby Crawl: What new hobby did you discover and cultivate? What old hobby saw you through? What did you create? Share!!!!
  • Binge-Fest Connect: invite participants to write on one piece of paper the top three shows they binge-watched in the past 16 months. If you can collect them early and type out responses (so folks identify hand-writing) that may be optimal. Create a list or a bingo card with the names of participants and see who can match binge content with binge watcher.
  • For a little more serious tone, invite people to share a spiritual practice they cultivated or a social justice engagement that was life-giving or sustaining. How did this practice or action effect them/their lives? How was this life-giving in the midst of a pandemic? Invite responses in story-form and share over time via worship, sermons, or social media.

Avoid stopping with the “it’s-great-to-be-back-together” fun and games. There is real work that needs to happen – which if done with intentionality and grace will bear fruit for years to come.

First off: remember that everyone will have changed over the course of the pandemic. Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us of this in How Do We Catch up with Friends When We Are Still Figuring out Who We Are Now?

Second: keep in mind that the congregation will continue to need transformation as we move into What’s Next.

Eric D. Barreto helps us wonder, Where Do We Go from Here? His post suggests sermon, worship, and community conversation opportunities to name and address our shared traumas, griefs, losses, and hopes. Krista Tippet writes about the importance of rest and reflection in Seeking Wisdom in this Liminal Time, where you’ll also find links to OnBeing’s new Wisdom app and their first course installment, Hope Is a Muscle.

Stephens-Reed outlines this more intense work in Re-gathering and Re-introductions, Part 2. See her gracious approaches to:

  • Breaking the ice
  • Slowing down
  • Lamenting
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Exploring how we’ve changed as individuals
  • Thinking about what those changes mean for being community

These conversations can inform worship, study, leadership meetings, planning sessions, intergenerational events, etc. Having them will help folks transition – together – from pre-pandemic “normal” to post-pandemic transformation – with greater grace and ease than pretending we can just get back to the way things were.

Go have a whole lib guide (curated resource list) on Leading through Conflict/Change and another whole lib guide on the Post-Covid Church. They might also be helpful as you navigate these new waters!