What does “the best” look like for faith leaders right now?

Pastors Elizabeth and Jason Villegas are some of the most innovative faith leaders I know. My favorite type of faith leaders are those that try to make the world better, more equitable, more free. 

I appreciate their ministry (and humor) more than ever and thought we could do some virtual bullet points of what “best” looks like right now in our contexts:

Rev. Jason  Pastor at Ahoskie & Murfreesboro United Methodist Churches, currently working from home in Murfreesboro, NC. 

Rev. Elizabeth – Children and Youth Pastor at Ahoskie Baptist Church, currently working from home in Murfreesboro, NC. 

Kylie Rural Faith Community Program Manager at NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues in Raleigh, currently working from home in Durham, NC. 

 

OUR BEST

Best source of news for you right now:

Elizabeth: I allow myself to look at the CDC, WHO, and Johns Hopkins University Hospital. I just need the numbers. It’s where I find comfort. 

Jason: NPR and Great Big Story (which is a different type of news, which gives me hope for humanity — the type I need right now)

Kylie: NC Health News

 

Best question to ask people when you want to know how they’re doing:

Elizabeth: “How is your soul” and “How are you experiencing Sabbath in this time?” 

Jason: Whatever question you’re willing to hear the answer to. In this moment, when we are all dying to be heard, it is better to suspend our responses, our judgments, and our desire to move to the next phone call, in favor of sitting with whatever comes out of the person’s mouth. Ask the question you only if you’re willing to give the gift of your attention.

Kylie: “How’s the rollercoaster been for you?”

 

Best way to be silly:

Elizabeth: Jason and I use TikTok a lot. 

Jason: Making TikTok videos with my wife. Definitely.

Kylie: Learning music video dances outside – here’s my current challenge

Elizabeth and Jason doing their TikTok #FlipTheSwitch challenge

Best rule you try to follow when sending information out:

Elizabeth: As I said before, I like numbers. I like to know the facts. But all of that is useless without hope. So a mix between facts and hope while acknowledging the grief people are witnessing. 

Jason: Less is more. People are being inundated with information, and it all seems to be changing rapidly, much of this being caused by the rapid changes in cases. If we can do a small thing very well, it increases the chances of that small message being an encouragement instead of it being part of the rapid flow of information in the torrent of emails, posts, and videos.

Kylie: For organizing in my Durham neighborhood, we try not to send out anything without Spanish translation.

 

Best practice you’ve seen your congregation adapt as a community ministry:

Elizabeth: As Jason mentioned, the Teddy Bear Hunt has really taken off in our small community. We have seen churches come together to Ecumenical children’s church programs. It’s been nice for our kids to fellowship with other churches for Sunday school and bible studies. 

Jason: My best friend and fellow pastor and housemate brought the “Teddy Bear Hunt” to Hertford Co and Murfreesboro, and it’s spread like wildfire. Also, she’s been leading the kids in making cards for some of the more vulnerable among the population, who are in extreme isolation. Also, I love that people from the English and Spanish portions of the community have jumped in to help me lead prayers and worship online, which people access through conference call, Zoom, or Facebook Live.

Kylie: Instead of collecting for food pantries right now, many faith congregations are giving out grocery store gift cards to limit volunteer shortages/exposure and allowing families to buy what they need.

 

Best saying/mantra you’re living by this week:

Elizabeth: Our Family mission statement is “Seek peace and pursue it.” That has never been more of a challenge then it is right now. It’s so easy to focus on the trauma and the freight, but to focus on the peace and actually pursue it, to bring it to life, is where I am reminding myself to be.

Jason: “That which doesn’t kill you delays the inevitable.” (As a joke – lighten up!) Also, I’m thinking something like, “A year from now my body will start to show signs of change from this time. Do I want them to be from anxiety or healing? Am I willing to handle the difficult truths about myself, so I can grow? What seeds am I planting at the moment – for myself and for those who listen to me?”

Kylie: “How is your rest practice going? Did you daydream yesterday? Will you nap today? Are you rebuking the obsession to be “productive” during a pandemic? Are you making space to grieve? Will you show yourself grace today?” – The Nap Ministry, @TheNapMinistry 

 

Best faith leader resource you’ve used so far:

Jason: As much as I love the fringe resources that apply only to a small group of people, I want to give a shoutout to a couple of the big ones that have really stepped up to the task. The NCCUMC website has a lot of good stuff for this time, and Ministry Matters has some solid stuff, too. The IEI Rural Church peer network phone calls have been really helpful to me as well.

Kylie: Leading Groups Online: a down-and-dirty guide to leading online courses, meetings, trainings, and events during the coronavirus pandemic

 

Best poem you’ve written or read lately:

Elizabeth: With my kids being home from school, I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss. Does that count?

Jason: “En Esperanza” – my first ever poem in Spanish, shared at a vigil in late March, online.

Kylie: “When people say “we’ve made it through worse before” – Clint Smith

 

Best podcast you’ve listened to:

Elizabeth: I’ve been catching up on the podcast “The Office Ladies,” done by two actresses from the show The Office.

Jason: This may make me a terrible millennial but I’ve used my car time to do Audible over podcasts and my fave audio book recently is Activist Theology

Kylie: I know this might seem like cheating that it’s an IEI podcast but really learned a lot about education, internet, and faith communities in NC: First in Future- Connecting in Crisis

 

Best TV show you’re watching:

Elizabeth: I am loving watching all of the late night talk shows reporting from their bedrooms. Especially Jimmy Kimmel.

Jason: You mean aside from Paw Patrol and Blippi? (Thanks kids!) As a family, we have actually gotten into LEGO Masters, which is pretty much the first reality show I’ve ever loved. 

Kylie: It’s endless “Schitt’s Creek” and “New Girl” reruns in my house.

 

Formative spiritual learning for this time:

Elizabeth: In the midst of all of this craziness, Jason and I decided to add to our chicken flock with four day old hatchlings. In the constant care of them, replacing their water, refilling their food, checking their temperature, I am reminded of the scripture imagining God as a mother hen protecting her chicks. Matthew 22:37. While we are social distancing and staying away from each other, I can’t help but to think that we are also becoming more connected in new ways, as a Hen’s wing is above us all. 

Jason: Exodus 18 where Moses’ father-in-law tells him that he needs to chill out or he’s going to burn out. (Thanks to a friend from Partners in Health and Wholeness for sharing this)

Kylie: I had a therapist teach me a breath practice of breathing in the world’s suffering when you feel overwhelmed by your own or others. This braids in beautifully with with my own Christian faith and wish to de-personalize my pain. As I breathe in, I collect all the people around the planet that are feeling the same way I am now (scared, frustrated, helpless) and I breathe out encouragement and love to us all. 

 

Best way to deal with failure right now:

Elizabeth: I’ve had to be very real with myself and pay attention to how my body is responding to the stresses of the day. There is an amount of self-care that’s needed to combat failures, but also I recognize that if I am to dwell on any one failure, I can’t quickly escape it because each day looks so similar from the day before while we’re trapped under a shelter in place order. It’s been essential for me too separate each day from another and not let my failures follow me.

Jason: I truly believe that people are craving authenticity, especially because it’s easy to tell a false story through a screen dimly seen. We could participate in interviews without wearing any pants, because only our torso-up is visible. We can apply filters to our faces and allow for many retakes and outtakes of videos that we don’t want the public to consume. However, in the midst of this seeming perfectability of online expression, I encourage anyone reading this to allow yourself to be seen in your failures. You will have mistakes in online videos. You will spend too much time on technology and neglect people in your neighborhood who love you. You will lash out at your family, wanting that extra minute of quiet. The quicker you acknowledge your failures, the quicker you can move past the delusion that you need to show a perfect front to the world. This time is a moment of revelation, in which we will see what our institutions and family systems are really built on. Some of them are built on appearances. Some are built only on money. Some are built on things that erode or disintegrate after months of isolation. Only in admitting our failures can we move ourselves to be built and rebuilt on charity and love, which in the Church we call the saving Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only by admitting our failures can we come out of the other side of this stronger. I’m constantly trying and failing, but I am also constantly learning and being shifted to God’s Grace and Love. May this be the foundation on which I’ll be built, when this pandemic is past!

Kylie: I can’t say anything more beautiful and true than the answers above. When I cry, I do try to do finger guns in myself in the mirror. It reminds me I’m on my own team, even when I’m not measuring up to what’s needed of me in the moment.