Grace Episcopal Rector, the Rev. Bob Wickizer, recalls times when he'd spend an hour for home visits, sitting on the couch, sharing tea.

Under COVID-19, he said, "It's five minutes, eight minutes tops." 

"I am not going to go personally visit a 90-year-old person, even with a mask on," Wickizer said. "What I'm beginning to do is take a communion bag, and I'll stand six feet away, trying to hand it to them. I'll ask how they're doing, but I'm not going to come into their apartment and their house. And I'm going to have a mask on."

For the past three months, COVID-19 has challenged how ministers and counselors offer pastoral care.

"We're all trying to figure out how do we live with this virus because it's probably not going away," said the Rev. Mike Smith, pastor of First United Methodist, Muskogee. 

Face-to-face counseling has been limited, Smith said.

"I've had a few parishioners I've been able to visit, with face masks and some having appropriate distancing," he said. "Some want more precautions than others."

The Rev. Leonard Shepherd, Peters Chapel AME Church pastor and a licensed counselor, has offered online tele-therapy to families during the pandemic. People call him, and he tells them where they can log in with a password.

He said he is gradually starting to see a few families face to face at Tulsa, Tahlequah and Pryor offices, as well as at Peters Chapel. 

Wickizer said the first few people he's visited appreciated "having some kind of contact with the church."

"People are lonely," he said. "There's a lot of 'everyone's forgotten me. Will I die alone' questions going around in people's heads."

Shepherd said he sees a lot of loneliness, depression, anxiety.

"And I see a lot of children," he said. "There's a lot of boredom. There's a lot of behavior, acting-out behavior issues."

Shepherd said parents aren't used to added pressures from the pandemic. 

"We have a need to have fun and excitement," he said. "We cannot just dismiss that. Children need that. They have a need to have a sense of freedom."

People also are stressed about making ends meet, Shepherd said.

Smith said he sees more depression and a sense of isolation among people he counsels. He said he often has had to reach out more "intently" because "a phone call might not be enough."

"They're single and they're older and their small groups, their Sunday School classes, that's their socialization," he said. "If you don't have that for a while, you almost lose interest in living."

A few members of one Sunday school class have decided to meet together, sitting far apart in a large classroom, he said. Another class has met outside a couple of times.

First United Methodist Chaplain, the Rev. Cindy Culver, said staff and parishioners are checking on isolated members. Some have started a card ministry.

"We have small communities built up, Sunday school classes are checking on one another to help," Culver said. "People are sending cards to the shut-ins, since we can't go in there and visit like we used to. That assists with the loneliness. Just trying to motivate in a new world."

You can help

First United Methodist Chaplain, the Rev. Cindy Culver, offers these tips on how people can cope with isolation and help others cope:

• "Stay in community with other people."

• People who are isolated can reach out to help others. "It gives them something to do and something to look forward to."

• "Pray. Pray without ceasing. Read your Bible. Rely on your faith."

• "If you have devotionals that are meaningful for you, share your love and compassion."

If you need help

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips on coping with stress:

• Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).

• Take care of your emotional health.

• Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media.

• Take care of your body through proper nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep.

• Make time to unwind.

• Connect with others.

• Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. 

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