Care of Congregants and Neighbours Post - Pandemic

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

In the subsequent days and months after a pandemic, congregants and neighbours will undoubtedly struggle with anxiety associated with the uncertainty that results from their long struggle and from having survived the pandemic, when some other congregants and neighbours have not. Even the most resilient will struggle with some degree of emotional or spiritual distress. Those congregations that have studied what to expect after a pandemic will fare better than those congregations that have not carefully planned how they might assist their ailing congregants and neighbours.

At Risk within the Church

Those who are at risk within the church will continue to need to be monitored to ensure they are safe and that their basic human needs are met. Re-establishment of services in the community will be sporadic and unreliable at best, so it will continue to be important for the healthy within the church to check in with congregants that have been isolated. This need will likely continue until community services are restored.

The need for the church to continue pandemic exercises will not cease just because the pandemic is over. There may be more suffering in isolated, vulnerable individuals who have not had the benefit of attending church services or enjoying group interactions. Grief may be accentuated due to the inability to say goodbye to friends and family members who died during the pandemic. Some may struggle with an overwhelming sense of survivor guilt. It will be important to involve them in memorials and special services so they can grieve along with their fellow congregants. And it will be important for the church not only recognize these losses, but also  to return to a more normal church life, both weekdays and during worship, as soon as this is feasible.

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

At Risk Neighbours

At risk neighbours also may be in greater difficulty after the pandemic, particularly if there are no concerned friends and family that follow-up on their health and safety requirements. In the lengthy aftermath of the pandemic, they may be forgotten and experience psychological and spiritual trauma. It will be important to follow up with them to see how they are managing and to connect them with available church and community resources.  As caregivers are once again focusing on their own families and activities, this group is at significant risk of being forgotten. A detailed plan for caring for neighbours at risk may be required for some time. This can include sensitively extending them an invitation to visit or become part of the church life and eventually part of the congregation, or to encourage them to reconnect with a congregation from their past.

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

The healthy within the Church

Those who have been able to stay healthy throughout the pandemic, or who have returned to health, will have no shortage of work to do in the aftermath of the pandemic. Support for vulnerable congregants and neighbours and their own families will consume much of their time. Family members may feeling neglected as healthy church members continue to support those whose health is compromised. This may lead to discord in families. Questions like "Why are you gone all the time?” or “Our lives have been on hold for too long – when are you finally going to make us a priority?” may be troubling to those whose energies are still immersed in dealing with congregants and neighbours. 

In the aftermath of the pandemic, it is important to make spending time with family a priority to try to regain some balance. It will be important for the church to encourage healthy church members to attend to their own needs by relaxing and enjoying time with family and friends.

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

Caregivers within the Church

The long-term effects of being pastors and caregivers during a pandemic cannot be overestimated. The onus will be on healthy leaders in the church to ensure that they give weary caregivers time for rest and replenishment. Some ways that congregations can assist caregivers in restoring health and wellness include providing opportunities for them to share their own stories and feelings through the development of support groups or organizing time for them to share one on one.  Knowing that the congregation cares enough to listen will assist in re-establishing equilibrium in the lives of those who have devoted so much time to helping others.

Churches will need to be alert to behaviours in their caregivers that are unhealthy. Congregations may need to develop committees to support weary caregivers that are exhibiting behaviours such as sleep disturbances, grief and depression, substance abuse, irritability, anxiety, various physical complaints, and possibly domestic aggression. If health issues are not resolved within a reasonable period of time it may be necessary to refer these individuals to professionals, for assistance.

During the post-pandemic phase it will be important for church leaders to be deliberate about restoring the life of the church. There is hope and security in normalcy, so the sooner the church meets together as a community of prayer and worship, the better. At the same time, certain aspects of pandemic planning will need to continue for an indeterminate amount of time as vulnerable church members and neighbours continue to deal with trauma in their own way.  No one can really predict how the life of a congregation or its members will change due to such an event, and normal may mean a new different normal. Some ways for caregivers to continue to take these needs seriously include:
•    Operating a crisis response centre where concerned congregants and neighbours can call about their specific concerns. The centre would need to be staffed by sensitive people who have an excellent understanding of resources available in their immediate community
•    Planning services that commemorate the lives of those who succumbed to influenza in order that the living can grieve and move on with their lives
•    Working together with other church groups in order to increase the amount and quality of services available and to avoid duplication.

At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside

The healthy outside the Church

As church members reach out to their neighbours, they may connect with healthy individuals in the community that are seeking purposeful involvement in the recovery phase. Some may have been overwhelmed with the love that they felt from church members and want to explore church involvement. Others may be full of questions and need a non-judgmental forum to express their concerns before they are able to be part of any recovery effort. Offering hope and reassurance to those who may be struggling with survivor guilt may be another ministry that church members can provide for their neighbours. 

Integral to all relationships developed during and after the pandemic is the need for congregants to love and respect their neighbours no matter what their ethnicity or religious expression. The suitability of these interactions will in large measure be determined by appropriate training in the principles of spiritual care.

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At risk within | At risk neighbours | The healthy within | Caregivers | The healthy outside