Adaptive Leadership In the Face of a Pandemic

Grace Burton Edwards, Rector, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Columbus, GA

Like a lot of clergy, as communities around the nation began limiting public gatherings due to the spread of COVID-19, the middle of March 2020 has been the steepest and fastest learning curve of my life.

In just a few days, I did a number of things I had never done before, including

  • Set up a livestream for worship for the first time
  • Teach the prayer group ladies (retired women who usually meet in person) how to meet via Zoom
  • Help community food pantry volunteers rethink how to distribute food safely
  • Work with staff to reimagine Sunday School and youth group and adult formation as distance learning
  • Create a church-wide phone tree
  • Explain to parishioners in nursing homes that we aren’t able to visit at the moment
  • Reformat the weekly email newsletter to a daily message since the news keeps changing daily

And the list goes on. Granted, many items on this list are tasks I should have learned or considered before now! But I had not, so I have had to learn a lot very quickly.

A remark heard often from clergy friends lately is this: “No one taught me how to pastor in a pandemic!”

While nothing could have prepared any of us for this particular situation, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program gave me tools I am using in this and many pastoral challenges.

  • Adaptive Mindset – The program is a think tank on how communities are changing and how the Church can respond. My time in the program helped me realize that the work of the Church is never “business as usual.” We are always adjusting to changing circumstances. Hearing how leaders in education, medicine, economic development, criminal justice and other sectors adapted to changing times helped me develop more flexibility in my leadership.
  • Ecumenical Inspiration – While I love my tradition (I’m an Episcopalian), my denomination doesn’t know everything! Learning from clergy in different Christian traditions broadened my experience of how congregations organize themselves and reach out to their neighbors, which is helping now.
  • Community Connection – Spending time with leaders in government, business, and social service taught me how to collaborate with those sectors more effectively, which is proving helping in the present challenge.
  • Ongoing Support – I am still in touch with friends from the program, even though I no longer live in Indiana. I reach out to them for ideas, troubleshooting, and prayer. What a gift!

This program is a blessing to the Church and to the world – in stormy waters and in calmer seas. I remain grateful for the two years of intense learning and formation I received through the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.  

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