Pastor shares experience with COVID-19
Baptist and Reflector
Editor’s Note: A Nashville pastor recently contracted COVID-19. The B&R normally does not withhold names, but we are making this exception at the request of the pastor. His story needs to be heard so we are sharing it in the following Question and Answer format.
B&R: Many people think things can never happen to them. What was your first thought when you discovered you had COVID-19?
Pastor: My first thought was “how?” My family and I had been so careful! My second and immediate thought was “who might have I exposed?” Thankfully I had been participating in the social distancing guidelines that had been rolled out and I had not been within six feet of any member for a couple of weeks before I got sick. I was so thankful that I had been doing the right thing. Several of our members are older, and while I had been doing online sermons, I had delivered some CDs to members who had asked for them. I had left them on porches and had sanitized them right before leaving each one just to be careful. I realized I had done all that I could to keep the membership safe.
B&R: Do you know how you were exposed? When were you diagnosed?
Pastor: I am not 100 percent sure on how I was exposed. There was one family member who had a mild cough that came into our home, but she was otherwise healthy and never showed any additional symptoms — including no fever. My family and I had been following all other guidelines until my illness. We have even been doing pickups and ordering groceries online. I had a mild headache for a couple of days before the fever and cough started. On the third day of the cough/fever I called my doctor and was directed to a COVID response team. I have worked with them on testing and all follow-up care since then.
B&R: How have you tried to protect your wife and children or do they also have it?
Pastor: So far my wife and children have shown no signs of the illness. Once I started developing a cough and fever, I immediately distanced myself from them — even before I knew I would get tested. I sure do miss their hugs and kisses! I have been sleeping in my garage with a cot and a portable heater. This has been especially difficult on my wife as she has been acting as a single mother in many ways. I am blessed to have her be able to do so much, but hate that I have not been able to do more.
B&R: How did your congregation react to the news and how have they ministered to you and your family?
Pastor: We have a small church and I am the only full-time staff person. I think that plays into their responses. I think this news has been difficult for them. Two years ago this month the former pastor passed away from a terminal illness.
Pastor: The initial responses from some church members were emotional including statements like “God can’t take you, too.” Despite the condition I was in, I needed to be an encouragement to our church membership reminding them that God is bigger than this illness, and that we would get through this. After the initial shock, the members have been mailing cards, calling, texting and sharing updates with each other. Later, we had meals brought to us almost every night (and left on the porch).
B&R: How has the illness affected the way you do ministry? I realize you were probably already self distancing, but has it kept you from interacting with your congregation?
Pastor: The cough has limited my phone calls, and I am not able to run any errands for any in need, but I am incredibly proud of my deacon body and my church leadership in this time of crisis. The deacons have stepped up from the moment social distancing was encouraged. I have tried to do all that I can given the situation, but we all know how it hurts when you can’t be there for the people you love and are called to serve. I was still able to audio record a sermon this past week with some editing out of the coughs, but it was difficult. I am blessed that I have only had a mild case compared to so many others.
B&R: Do you think the illness has helped you better understand/become more empathetic about health concerns of your flock?
Pastor: I grew up in a family where taking care of those with disabilities and the elderly was encouraged. My home church had a ministry for adults with disabilities, and I was given the opportunity to interact with these individuals at an early age. My heart and compassion for what the CDC is calling the “high-risk” community right now comes from those childhood experiences. This illness has reminded me just how fragile some of our elderly can be, and only time will tell if I was truly able to effectively keep the virus away from those I delivered packages and CDs to. I pray for their safety continually right now.
B&R: Do you think the illness has helped your church members realize that you, as their pastor, are not exempt from hurts/problems?
Pastor: I have only been the pastor here for a year, and in many ways it has been a difficult year with no “honeymoon” as our church is in the midst of revitalization. That being said, I can say with more honesty that I believe I have one of the most loving and caring churches in Tennessee.
More than any other church I have ever been part of, this church has understood the challenges of being a father, of being a husband, and being a first-time senior pastor. During my 18 years of ministry I have always taken the approach of not wearing a social mask — an approach of sharing with the church the blessings and challenges of ministerial leadership. This church cares about me and my family like a church family should.
B&R: When this is over and you have recovered, how will the experience make you a better pastor?
Pastor: What I have learned is a greater understanding that compassion is incredibly necessary when dealing with anyone at any time.
Earlier this week, I went to get a chest x-ray and I felt that some of the medical team treated me like I was leprous. While many staff were emotionally distant as well as physically distant, there was one nurse who showed great care and compassion while still being safe. It really made me feel much better. I was able to pray for her and her safety as well. Making the right decisions (like wearing PPE, or even discussing sin in someone’s life) is not always easy, but compassion and care can help someone feel safe and loved. This experience has also allowed me to evaluate areas of strength within our church in a different way as well.
B&R: Has the illness helped you understand the need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your family and church?
Pastor: This is the question that I will need to be most mindful of now as I start to feel better. I want to get back into the groove, but I must allow myself time to heal. My oxygen levels are still lower than normal, and I need to rest. I want to go upstairs and do dishes, and help with backed-up laundry. I will want to jump on the church’s rooftop and yell for revival. Patience, trust in God and trusting in others is where I must reside right now. Knowing I have an amazing wife has helped. Continuing to trust in the deacons and other church leaders to follow God’s will and care for the body has helped. Ministry should never be about the individual — it should always be about the Kingdom.
B&R: Share anything else that you have learned from this experience.
Pastor: At the time of my test, testing guidelines in Nashville did not allow testing for everyone with symptoms. I was only tested because I had all the classic symptoms and have a history of asthma. At this point, my family will not be tested because they don’t show symptoms and are all in good health otherwise. It is important to remember that even though they are not symptomatic, they could have had the virus even before me. Following the guidelines is imperative because it would have been so easy to infect others. It is important to note the one family member I think I might have gotten the virus from could never have been tested under the current guidelines — they never had a fever and had no other health concerns that would have allowed them to get a test.
— The pastor has since received a “negative” test and is now out of isolation.