In just a few weeks, thousands of Americans who once commuted to an office almost every day will meet one year of working from home or remotely. While the effects of this shift in work dynamics are apparent in improved home internet speeds and office setups, many people in our congregations and broader communities are growing aware — maybe for the first time — of the toll this “new normal” has taken on them.
In recent conversations with people in my church, I have observed this new awareness in several ways. An empty-nester who has spent decades in the office every day doesn’t realize how his newfound comfort with working from home has erased every barrier that once existed between work and the rest of his life. A young couple, juggling two careers and virtual schooling for their children, feel defeated, unable to keep up at work or at home. Young single professionals who moved to our city within the last year or two for jobs now rarely have reason to leave their apartments, and the weight of loneliness continues to grow.
There is still far more speculation than certainty about the future of the office in corporate America. And the longer that uncertainty lingers, the more pastors should be aware of the subtle effects of this unchosen work-from-home arrangement on the people in their churches. How can pastors be aware of and try to meet these needs?
As is often the case in pastoral care and counseling, it may start with helping people identify spiritual and emotional dynamics still lurking below the surface of their daily lives. In the midst of all the challenges presented by the last year, frustrations and temptations created by working from home are just one aspect of their struggles.
None of the parishioners I referenced in the examples above engaged with me for the purpose of talking about their work. But it became clear to me (and then to them) as we talked that their work affected their general discouragement or loneliness more than they realized. Once we help workers realize these dynamics, we must respond to them with compassion and creativity.
One thing that has encouraged me during the pandemic has been the remarkably innovative ways that churches are approaching pastoral care and discipleship. For example, if your church does small groups or community groups, can you form a group just for working parents and find a safe way to care for their kids while they meet in person or online? Maybe a single person struggling with loneliness would be open to moving in with a family for a few months to share the load of caring for kids and receive the care of embodied friendship. Maybe an empty nester could be lured away from his email for an hour by the chance to mentor someone younger in his field, even if it is another Zoom meeting for now.
Perhaps this season of continued disruption is still ripe with opportunities for new ways to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24).