Maintaining relationships in times of social distance

Recently, our son and daughter-in-law were searching for painter’s tape for a sidewalk chalk project with their 3-year-old. They are schoolteachers who are home because of COVID-19 and are providing healthy structure and fun to their days. Our son drove to our home to borrow the tape and encouraged Nana and Grandpa to greet our beloved granddaughter from a distance. We’ve all missed our Fridays at Nana’s since COVID-19 landed us in social distancing. I made a sign that said “We love Carly” and held it up to the storm door when they arrived. Our son motioned for us to come outside as they stood back. Mistakenly, I asked Carly to “send a hug” and motioned doing the same back to her. As I should have expected, she dashed from her dad to me and gave me a big hug around my legs — with all of the adults shouting “NO!” She recoiled, returned to her dad, buried her face in his shoulder and cried. How do you explain this horrid virus and herculean task to stop the spread of it to a 3-year-old? You can’t. After a while, she was coaxed from her dad’s shoulder with some storytelling and a game of no-touching freeze tag.

We find ourselves toggling between too much together time – if quarantined or sheltered with others – and too much time apart (social distancing from the rest). For most of us, it’s not our normal existence. In our need for relationships, and particularly for intergenerational ones, we search for new solutions as we navigate these strange days. Parents strive for structure to the family’s day, to make sure everyone gets some fresh air and sunshine and to keep up with schoolwork. Add to that day jobs in a virtual setting (new to many) and the desire and need to fan the flame of our faith. Praise God from whom all blessings flow for the ease of Zoom, the pervasiveness of Facebook, text messaging, YouTube channels and the good-old-fashioned telephone.

I’m encouraged by the creativity of pastors, Christian educators, congregational leaders and tech helpers who seek ways to continue ministry with people of all ages though maintaining Christ-centered relationships with God and others. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Not an abundance of Sunday school classes or group meetings.

I think there are two things we can do to maintain relationships in the church:

  1. Reach. Reach out to your own age and stage friends — those of your generation who probably already get your perspective, how you’re feeling and how you’re coping. Reach down to those younger than you, whether that’s children and teens or younger adults. Ask them how they’re feeling. Don’t advise, just listen well. Reach up to those older than you. Ask them how they’re feeling. If they’re a lot older, ask them to share stories of any other major historical crisis they’ve experienced. It’s important for all of us to acknowledge and share what we’re going through. We’ll grow stronger in relationships as we do.
  2. KISS. Keep It Super Simple. This quarantined, social-distancing situation would be a whole lot harder without our digital options, but let’s not run ourselves ragged in the process. Use the tools you already know how to use and maybe scale up a little to stretch your brain to one thing new. Don’t beat yourself up over needing to replace everything you were doing in ministry before COVID-19 restrictions. It’s OK to let some things go. We’ll grow stronger in relationships as we do.

Digital platforms are simply that — platforms. Something upon which we stand or how we deliver the content. The relationship-building and ministry happens with what we do with the platforms. Let’s look for ways to commit to each other more deeply, to trust one another more fully, as we’re all feeling more vulnerable than most of us have felt in a very long time, if ever.

Liz Perraud serves as executive director of GenOn Ministries, a nonprofit organization that partners with churches to nurture and deepen intergenerational Christ-centered community through training, resources, youth conferences and support. She is a ruling elder and lives in Baltimore.

Tools for faith formation with children and youth

Resources for ministry with children and youth that support relationships should top everyone’s list. Look for those that use “wondering” questions to facilitate conversation. In an intergenerational setting (including the home), help all ages commit to mutuality in the conversation — that all are learners when you gather.

Building Faith: Curated resources for faith formation, including seasonal ideas for all ages.
Virginia Theological Seminary

CRC Toolkits: Resources gathered (curriculum, blogs) on a variety of topics (intergenerational, children, storytelling, older adults).
Christian Reformed Church

Finger labyrinths: Downloadable labyrinths to paint, color and embellish with personal messages or meditations.
The Labyrinth Society

Flame Creative Children’s Ministry: Ideas to help parents and children’s church leaders. Creative storytelling and prayers, coloring pages, church seasonal activities.
Mina Munns

Ideas and resources for church musicians: Printable and digital resources for creatively integrating visual arts in worship for all ages.
Ashley Danyew

Illustrated resources: Children’s bulletins and messages, intergenerational coloring posters and coloring pages
Illustrated Ministry

Milestones Ministry: Taking Faith Home bulletin inserts and faith discussion cards based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Milestone event recognition modules. Birthed from Vibrant Faith Ministries

The Network: Resources and ideas for ministry with all ages using an interactive platform.
Christian Reformed Church

Picture Book Theology: Website with ideas for how secular picture books connect with the sacred for use in churches, for retreats, in parochial schools, and at home.
Hanna Schock

Praying in Color: Active, visual and meditative form of intercessory prayer. Website explains how to pray using this approach. Books with instructions and pre-printed prayer pages to apply to learning Scripture, practicing lectio divina and praying in other ways.
Sybil MacBeth

Storypath: Online library of books for children and older youth with ideas for use in worship and Christian education settings. Book reviews, lesson plans using the books and lectionary readings tied to books.
Union Presbyterian Seminary

Sunday LIFT (Living In Faith Together): Resources that invite all ages to share food, learn, worship and have fun in small groups around tables. Replaces or supplements traditional Sunday school. Can also be used at home.
GenOn Ministries

Treasure Box Tuesday: Weekly email of resources for children and family ministries. Links to articles, products, books, conferences.
Traci Smith

Visual Faith cards: Practice that guides through imagery into deeper faith formation. Used in multiple settings including Bible studies, youth groups, storytelling, intergenerational gatherings. Available as a database or printed cards.
Vibrant Faith

Worship arts resources: Downloadable resources that help all ages lead in worship.
GenOn Ministries

Worshipping with Children: Lectionary blog offers help for specific Sundays for intergenerational worship. Ideas include reading Scripture, prayers and liturgy that engage all ages.
Carolyn Brown

Be creative in using what would ordinarily be considered in-person resources during this time of social distancing. What can you distribute for people to use at home? Digital platforms like private Facebook Groups, Facebook Live, and Zoom can be used to stay apart yet still interact in community.