With many people struggling for various reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Church at Tellico Village is hoping weekly encouragement will offer a beacon of hope.
“Coping with 2020” will last through Dec. 16. Plans are to have a seminar each Wednesday except Thanksgiving week.
Lynne MacConnell, church congregation care team leader, has heard from several people who are struggling this year. Some have lost a loved one and not been able to go through the grief process effectively due to virus restrictions.
“They are cut off from their social support,” MacConnell said. “They’re cut off from the things that can help people move through grief. One of the things that helps people is to stay busy. That’s pretty hard to do right now, and you need to have people around you and that can’t happen. We did start the grief care program, which is really specific to people who are grieving the loss of spouses. That took place in the last couple of months here on site. The church has opened up to support groups knowing how important those are for people. Other than that, nobody uses the church except for services.”
She approached the Rev. Stephen Prevatte, senior pastor, with the idea of a series of seminars, and they hashed out topics that stuck.
The inaugural session Oct. 28 was an introduction. Upcoming topics include the Scope of the Problem, Coping Strategies for Stress Management, Dealing with the Holidays in 2020, Impacts of 2020 on Mental Health, Spiritual Aspects of Coping with 2020 and Developing a Plan for Self-Care.
Attendance was low for the introduction, but MacConnell was not surprised. Lessons will be posted on the church website every Thursday.
“I had a couple of people contact me and say, ‘Can you record it, because we don’t feel safe coming to the space inside, but we really feel the need’,” she said. “I think the people who need this program most are the people who are staying home. I mean, people who are grieving, I’ve talked to people who are caring for spouses with dementia and they know that their spouses have worsened during the pandemic because we know that social stimulation and social support helps mitigate against the dementia systems and so they’ve lost that. We have several people with spouses who are in nursing homes. They haven’t been able to see them since March. That’s eight months and that’s a long, long time.”
MacConnell said segmenting topics over several weeks prevented overload.
“We’re a community church and the thing that we care most about is our call from Christ to love our neighbor,” the Rev. Jennifer Brown, associate pastor, said. “We see this as an invitation to anyone in the community, not just members, not just folks who can come in person, to view the videos, which are uploaded on Thursdays, and have access to this resource because we know it’s a difficult time and we want people to find connection and community in the midst of it.”
With the holidays around the corner, Brown anticipates many will experience a fall and winter season like no other.
“In the absence of being able to see family, in the absence of being able to gather with friends,” MacConnell said. “So many people here in the Village on holidays, if they stay here, gather with friends at Thanksgiving and at Christmas, and those are going to be gone for the most part. That adds to the depressed mood, of anxiety, of agitation that people experience and dealing with the restrictions of COVID. The title is ‘coping,’ and pastor Jennifer talked about strategies talked about coping spiritually, and the emphasis is going to be on coping strategies throughout, tools that people can use to deal with the struggles that they are encountering and that will only magnify.
“The pandemic is getting worse,” she added. “At the very time when people were hoping we could come out of it and could get back to family gatherings and so on. It looks like that’s not going to be possible, and I think elongating the people of struggle just makes it more intense.”
Village resident Mark Shillingburg, who attended the introduction, agreed this year will be different for his family. Instead of in person, he pointed to the possibility of using Zoom to connect.
“We will probably be doing that,” he said. “We’ve already done it with church groups and family groups. I had never heard of Zoom until this came along and now it’s becoming a thing.”
Brown said dealing with spirituality will also be a point of focus, which will be led by Prevatte.
“COVID has changed the way that we obviously do church, and many folks are unable to gather in the ways that we’re used to,” Brown said. “We’re hoping to provide some tools and some education around what folks can do around home to stay connected in their spiritual life. We know your spiritual life is directly related to the wellness of your whole being, and so we’re concerned about the whole person and see it as part of our mission in ministry to care for the whole and not just the part.”
Seating is limited to 60 for social distancing. For more information about the seminar or to register, visit www.telliochurch.com.
“I’m hoping that this space allows folks to grieve and to lament,” Brown said. “I think one of the hardest things is we always want to put on a good front, even in church sometimes, and we’re hoping that this allows folks the ability to just admit that this has been a year of loss. Whether that was a loss of travel plans or the loss of a grandchild’s wedding and be able to attend that or the losses that are coming. We hope that by naming it and dealing with it that folks are less overwhelmed. Mr. Rogers, I believe, always says that anything that is human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable is manageable. We kind of want to continue in that spirit of encouraging folks to talk about this.”