Nativity Called, Nativity Listened.


Reflecting on our Project to Contact Every Household During Covid-19, to be the Living Christ to One Another

by Joanne Griffin, Minister of Belonging

Back in early April Glenn tasked me to lead the effort to make a personal contact with every household that has been connected to Nativity.  In Glenn’s words, the purpose of this effort was ‘to be the presence of the Living Christ to one another.’ We were concerned about how people were doing and wanted to check in with them during the pandemic. We called this project “EHC” (Every Household Contact). Fortunately, Kyle Soderberg teamed up with me and his expertise in so many areas—not the least of these in data and spreadsheet manipulation—were invaluable.

I am happy to report that we have completed our project. Not only did we attempt to check in with current members of our church community, but also those who were members long ago and some who never formally joined the church, but about whom we care, nonetheless. In total, we utilized 69 volunteers and 10 staff to reach 2467 households (over 6000 people) by phone, email, and handwritten cards. Often it took multiple tries and multiple means to contact people. It was a tremendous administrative effort, in part because the data management aspect of things was complex, and we asked a lot of our volunteers.

But the outcome was equally tremendous. Some have commented that of all the things we could do as the church during these difficult times, a personal connection and check-in was the most important.

Before EHC got launched, efforts were underway by our staff to identify isolated seniors and other individuals who needed regular contact. Jan Frederickson and Pat Hendricks had a plan in place to use volunteers to accomplish this. Kelly Sherman-Conroy and our CYF Social Justice & Advocacy Ministry to were quick to launch an elder pen pal writing program in March. Pat and Jan teamed up with them. Many children, youth and adults joined to regularly connect with elders from Nativity and The Good Samaritan Center in Maplewood (run by a member of Nativity) who were separated from their families because of the stay-at-home quarantine. Marlys, a recipient of pen pal letters, said she has appreciated her letters.

Of course, there were some who felt bothered by being contacted, but for the most part, people felt cared for. Those who made contacts took time to be a listening ear, or to receive and pass along a prayer request to our dynamic prayer team. Some offered prayer over the phone if it felt appropriate and welcome. When someone said, “Well, we moved to Florida and don’t attend Nativity anymore,” it was a chance to remind them that they can access resources and worship with us from anywhere, thanks to the long hours and hard work of our communications and worship team to make digital church a quality experience.

An important outcome of the project has been the chance to update our database with all the helpful information that was collected–mostly changes to contact information. Staff member Sharon Damsgard and a faithful, anonymous volunteer have logged approximately 60 hours so far and are about halfway through with making updates.

Of her experience of contacting people, Gail Bergsven said, “All the persons I spoke to or heard from via email appreciated the contact from NLC. What I found interesting was that each contact was either helping someone else or getting help from a friend, neighbor, or their adult child.  The best call I made was to a restaurant owner in our community. Before I could ask how he was doing, he said, “If anyone is in need, have them call me and I will provide a meal.”

Pat Hendricks shared insightful reflections as well. “In the middle of May, I had the privilege of calling and/or emailing 24 people for this project. I had expected that some would be uneasy because of this spreading disease.  Many who I phoned lived in congregate housing, so I expected boredom, or a sense of being confined. As I began the phone calling, my dire expectations were proven wrong!

People were grateful that I had called, and much to my surprise, had a sense of humor about the situation. One woman jokingly referred to her fellow senior housing friends as “inmates.” She would say, “My fellow inmates.”  Another said, “Well, I’ve lived long life. We all have to die of something.”

Others talked about doing 1,000 piece puzzles, going through old photos, watching the History Channel, going for walks, reading, and calling people they haven’t talked to in a long time—such as old boyfriends. One woman sewed masks and said, “The mask-making keeps me occupied. I haven’t sewed for a long time, but it all came back to me.”

Most were grateful to be able to view the weekend worship services via live-streaming and the weekly Bible study using Zoom. One woman commented, “I could see the service and do the Bible study in the comfort of my living room, drinking coffee and wearing pajamas.”

Most talked about praying for a cure for the pandemic, for the people who were sick, for health care workers, and “…that people maintain sanity and balance.”

Talking with these people was a blessing; yet, I was puzzled about why they were so upbeat. Almost all of the people I spoke to were over 65—the population most susceptible to Covid.  So why….? Over time several explanations occurred to me. These folks were economically secure.  They had longevity in a church community and were people of faith. These folks knew how to rely on faith when times were tough. They had lived through challenging situations in their lives: death of spouses and children, illnesses, disabilities, social and political unrest, and economic downturns. They had learned many of the tools of coping.

One of the gifts of aging is the wisdom and peace acquired through decades of experience. I saw that as I spoke to these people.  “Hanging out” with some of Nativity’s elders last month was a blessed experience.”

The closet off my bedroom at home is large, has windows, and serves as both a place to hang my clothes and my devotional spot, or my literal prayer closet. It became my work office during Covid-19–first with my computer on my lap, then transitioning to tv trays, and then, with the EHC project and the need for dealing with spreadsheets and an extra large screen–a real desk hauled up from the basement. It is a cozy place from which I had the privilege to make about 100 phone calls to you beloved community members, and held zoom calls with clothes as my unabashed backdrop. Now, when I think of my closet space, I will always think of the EHC project and be grateful that we belong to a community that genuinely cares for one another.

I built in to the process some ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the contacts and asked for feedback from volunteers so that we can do this even better in the future if we try something similar again. We are always trying to grow in our ability to be the presence of the Living Christ to one another. I am grateful for all of you along this journey, particularly during these difficult times.