Editor’s note: Deseret News InDepth writers reflected on their work in 2020. Here’s what they learned:
Part of me always knew I wasn’t meant to be a pastor, but I didn’t fully accept it until the day in graduate school when I had to improvise a community prayer.
Before that afternoon, I’d associated faith leadership with long, leisurely afternoons studying the Bible and writing sermons. I hadn’t thought about how often pastors have to come up with something wise to say on short notice.
Thankfully, my preaching professor thought about it quite a bit and wouldn’t let students pass her class without a surprise presentation.
When my time came to deliver a spontaneous prayer, I stumbled over a few sentences about God’s grace and the gift of togetherness and then shuffled quickly, red-faced, back to my seat.
That awkward prayer popped into my mind this year as I spoke with pastors about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like me in my preaching class, they were faced with something they hadn’t prepared for. Unlike me, they had the skills to think on their feet.
I spoke with pastors facing coronavirus-related gathering restrictions and heard how they’d embraced virtual worship services almost overnight.
I transcribed their long lists of safety protocols once churches began to reopen and wrote about thorough cleaning routines.
I even connected with a minister who performed a baptism with a garden hose to keep a young congregant safe.
Almost daily, I was awed by clergy members’ improvisational skills. Almost as often, I gave thanks that I wasn’t in their shoes.
In addition to keeping people safe and spiritually nourished during a pandemic, pastors had to grapple with rising conflict in their congregations and communities.
People of faith, like all Americans, clashed over closure orders, mask mandates and the 2020 election. They disagreed about Black Lives Matter protests and calls to remove statues honoring controversial figures from the public square.
Pastors were asked to make sense of an almost unfathomable amount of suffering, while struggling with pain and isolation themselves.
A pandemic “is not something anybody’s an expert in,” Trevin Wax, the senior vice president of theology and communications at LifeWay, told the Deseret News in August.
Religious leaders did sometimes stumble this year, making statements about safety risks, racism and politics that they later regretted.
But what I’ll remember best about 2020 is how nearly every pastor I spoke with was willing to learn, to observe and then readjust. They didn’t stop trusting God or take it for granted that their congregations trusted them.
“I do kind of laugh every once in a while and think, ‘OK God. Thank you very much. We’ll just keep going,’” said the Rev. Martin Diaz, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, to the Deseret News in May.
The story of pastors in 2020 is a story of perseverance. In the year ahead, I hope they, and all of us, get a well-deserved break.