“What Will It Look Like?” A Ministry Q and A

Ariel Otterstad, Associate Pastor
Living Word Lutheran Church
Katy, Texas

Please tell us about your ministry context. 
I serve a large (for our Synod) congregation in a western suburb of Houston. We have a staff of 15 and prior to COVID-19, worshipped around 500 people on a Sunday. Obviously now that looks very different. We worship between 100-150 in person and anywhere from 600-1200 online. 

What have the COVID-19 restrictions looked like in your congregation over the past year? 
The restrictions varied over the course of time. When everything first hit, we were completely virtual for five months. We reopened with social distancing and masking in our worship space and continued online worship simultaneously. That lasted four months. Then over half of our staff contracted COVID-19, so we went straight virtual for another two months. We reopened for in-person worship in March and have continued thus far. 

All non-worship ministries have been virtual since March of 2020. (This includes Christian education, confirmation, youth group, music ministries, small groups, etc.) 

The CDC has lifted mask restrictions for vaccinated people, and the executive leadership has decided to adapt our policy accordingly. I honestly don’t know what that means just yet. 

At what stage is your congregation in right now when it comes to reentry, meaning a return to in-person worship, faith formation, fellowship, and so on? 

We are open for in-person ministry. We are looking at bringing back faith formation and fellowship ministries in the fall, assuming trends and vaccinations continue on the current trajectory. 

What do you know will look different about your ministry in the coming months? 
Everything will be different. It has been for a year, and I foresee it continuing that way for quite some time. What we have been doing for the past year is going to change into something completely different and not exactly what we had before. 

How have your experiences over the last year equipped you to do ministry in a new way? 
We have had to be flexible, creative and ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. We have had to be willing to let ministries that were working for a while go and try something different. All of this has made ministry look very different and caused us to rethink our purpose and mission. We want to continue reaching people in new innovative ways and DO NOT want to go back to the way things were before. 

What words of encouragement would you like to offer your peers in ministry? 
You are enough. Your efforts are enough. Your leadership is enough. You made the right decisions for your community. You have done exceptionally well during this whole pandemic—no matter what anyone else says! This year was crazy, and you were awesome!


Trixie Richter, Congregational Life Director and Youth Minister
Redeemer Lutheran Church 
Winter Park, Florida

Please tell us about your ministry context.

We are a midsized congregation prior to pandemic nestled minutes away from the large city of Orlando on the border of the small town of Winter Park. Our Sunday morning worshipping community is predominately retired or working retired couples and individuals, with a few families with younger children. Our weekly community is racially diverse and comprised of a large preschool with infants to Pre-K students and a separate social agency who support those who are experiencing homelessness or those in need of family or emergency services. 

What have the COVID-19 restrictions looked like in your congregation over the past year?
Our congregation leadership made the decision to follow our bishop’s recommendation to not meet in person in March of 2020, and so we pivoted and provided online recorded worship for our worshipping community. Fortunately/unfortunately, I was the only staff member who knew how to use Zoom (due to my seminary classes are on Zoom), record, edit and upload worship videos. We realized there was a need for our older members, as well as our hard-of-hearing members, to have accurate captions for our services and music, so we caption our services. We have gained a small group of deaf viewers who have contacted us and thanked us for providing accurate captions instead of the generated ones especially for the lyrics of the music. Due to the various needs of our facility, congregation and recording/editing, the music director and I have been working pretty much seven days a week. 

At what stage is your congregation in right now when it comes to reentry, meaning a return to in-person worship, faith formation, fellowship and so on?

Our youth group and confirmation met on Zoom. In August of 2020, we began to return to in-person worship following strict protocol of marked distance seating, limited numbers, masks and sanitizing procedures. Our youth continued to meet online utilizing Zoom. The council decided to lift mask mandates per the CDC recommendation on May 17 for those who are vaccinated and lifted many of the distancing protocols giving the choice for groups or pods of people to sit near each other. 

Our youth began to meet in a hybrid in-person/online gathering at the end of April. We gather one Sunday online and the other Sunday hybrid online/in person outside (three gatherings hybrid before the end of the Sunday school year). We only had one in-person Sunday cancelled due to the weather. We did host a virtual pizza party with our youth. My husband dropped off pizzas for those close to us, and for the others we had pizza delivered. Then we gathered online on Zoom and played games and played our favorite music videos. We plan to gather this fall in person and provide a hybrid Zoom-in, if necessary. 

On Sundays, we are gathering in person since August of last year. The majority of the currently attending people on Sunday morning are vaccinated, and we average about 60, with plenty of room to spread out if needed. Congregational singing will resume this Sunday. The choir will be invited to sing again in the fall. As of now they are allowed to gather but not to sing during worship as a group. Online recorded worship will continue into the fall and beyond. We provide a midweek devotion led by staff members recorded online throughout the pandemic and will continue through the summer. No other faith formation will be held during the summer months. Our council will have our first social gathering at the end of June outside. We are not currently doing a church social gathering. 

What do you know will look different about your ministry in the coming months?

The council and pastor envision this fall to be a return to fairly normal church activities with lots of caution. PPE will be available to those who want to utilize it such as masks, hand sanitizer, a sanitizing facility, etc. We do not foresee changing our Communion practice for some time. We currently have it set up on a separate table with the host in a mini cupcake liner for individuals to pick up on their own and plastic individual communion cups prefilled with wine or juice. The pastor will not distribute it; he will say the words to the person as they approach to pick up their host and wine. 

We are exhausted as a staff and look forward to having the summer to renew ourselves. Our focus for the summer is to rest and renew our ministry staff, as the pandemic practices have been very difficult. We are evaluating and streamlining as much as we can, so we can have better boundaries around time off and self-care. We are not offering any summer camps or adventures this summer for the older youth. Our preschool is hosting VBS camp, but it’s primarily for the 4s, 5s and returning for the summer 6-year-olds of existing families and church members. This is held in person in our preschool.

Our youth and volunteers have Zoom fatigue and have stated they are tired of “virtual” anything. I feel the coming months will be focused on trauma recovery and relearning how to be in community together. Mental health and physical connections will be a priority, but it will look different as we navigate transitioning back into social connections. We will do a lot more outside activities for both youth and adults as people gather back together. Our other church focus will be to engage those who have enjoyed watching church from home on their own time and are not interested in coming back to “traditionally held hours of worship.” We will work at imagining what new ways we can be the body of Christ. 

How have your experiences over the last year equipped you to do ministry in a new way?

My mind has been opened to new ways of defining and experiencing many of the church words such as gathering, community, worshipping, outreach and socializing. I’m not ready to give all these new and creative ways up, and instead I want to evaluate how they are meeting needs and bringing the Good News of Christ in new and creative ways. Some people are not going to go back to our traditional way of doing church, and the Spirit is already working in these creative ways. I want to embrace and learn from them. 

What words of encouragement would you like to offer your peers in ministry?

God is already ahead of us and continues to meet us where we are at. Let’s do what we do best and simply love our people. 


Paul Carlson, Pastor
Calvary Lutheran Church
Morganton, North Carolina

Please tell us about your ministry context.

My wife and I co-pastor at Calvary Lutheran in Morganton, North Carolina. Morganton is a small but growing city with a strong ecumenical community that has weathered multiple transitions in industry, economy and demographics. 

What have the COVID-19 restrictions looked like in your congregation over the past year?

We stopped indoor worship in March of 2020 and began sharing worship resources completely online. At first we used Zoom to come together online. Then we began to prerecord elements of a service that we would then share on both Facebook and YouTube. With the help of a grant, we purchased quality video equipment to stream from within our sanctuary. Behind the scenes it looked very much like a studio, but we were able to improve our capabilities and begin to slowly bring in more and more elements of worship. We did this for the majority of 2020 and well into 2021. 

Throughout the pandemic we have had many small group meetings, book groups, continued with Sunday school, confirmation, council and even congregational meetings all through our Zoom and Google Docs resources.

At what stage is your congregation in right now when it comes to reentry, meaning a return to in-person worship, faith formation, fellowship and so on?

We began to regather for in-person worship on Easter Sunday. We continue to wear masks, but we do sing with masks as a congregation. Many members of the choir have expressed their “hate” of the masks, but they all agree: If it means we can regather and sing again, then it is worth it. The majority of those who come to in-person worship on Sundays are vaccinated (like 95%). We project the service to the fellowship hall, which we use as an overflow or safe space for those who are not comfortable with the singing. We also continue to stream and record every service online.

What do you know will look different about your ministry in the coming months?

I predict we will continue to grow in our in-person worship, although it will slow down some as people are hesitant about the new CDC recommendations on mask requirements. Most of the congregation are simply excited to be back to in-person worship and will continue to come with or without a mask mandate. 

How have your experiences over the last year equipped you to do ministry in a new way?

Everything we do now is a hybrid of sorts—meaning we offer worship services as well as Sunday school classes, committee meetings and book groups in two formats, both online and in person. This has helped us tremendously in our ability to keep people connected although it certainly changes many of my assumptions regarding attendance. 

What words of encouragement would you like to offer your peers in ministry? 

Continue to follow God’s call. Christ who began a good work in you has not brought you this far to abandon you now.

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