The BTS Center
97 India Street • Portland, ME 04102

May 26, 2020

Dear friends:

In last week's e-newsletter , I focused on the topic of Perspective. I wrote, "As our lives continue to be shaped and reshaped by this global pandemic, as one day dissolves into the next, it's easy to lose perspective."

It's true, and perhaps no one struggles more to maintain perspective in the midst of this pandemic than parents with young children and teenagers at home. It's a common refrain among parents: how difficult it is to balance the demands of working from home, monitoring our children's remote learning, communicating with teachers, and managing all the details of a stuck-at-home household community, all while attending to our children's grief and their social and emotional needs. It seems to me all of this is profoundly spiritual in nature.

This week we are turning our attention to this very topic as we convene a gathering tomorrow (Wednesday) evening: Spiritual Parenting: An Online Idea Swap for Pandemic-Weary Parents. I invite you to check out the details below, and if this is a topic that resonates, please join us.

As a parent, I find myself reflecting on topics like:

  • Grief and the social-emotional dynamics of living through a global pandemic: My wife, Sara, and I found that the early weeks were particularly rough, as each of our daughters remembered, day by day, something else they were missing out on, some other end-of-year school tradition — the school play, the chorus concert, the 8th grade graduation, the big class trip — and so there were many moments of intense sadness. Now we've settled into a new normal, but it's pretty unsatisfying, frankly. We recently learned that our beloved church camp is closed for the summer, and there are many uncertainties about what school will look like in the fall, which means there's no end in sight. As far as I'm concerned, attending to our children's grief and their social and emotional needs is profoundly spiritual in nature.

  • Resilience: Let's face it — our kids are already dealing with a much more unstable world than the one we experienced when we were kids. Climate scientists tell us that as we live into all the effects of global climate chaos — and more frequent pandemics is one such effect — as we live into this new geological epoch which scientists call The Anthropocene, we can anticipate a long stretch of instability, of disequilibrium, and that will be our kids' reality as they grow into adulthood. So how do we care for them spiritually now — how do we focus on their spiritual formation — so that they have the grounding and the spiritual, emotional resources they will need to build resilient lives? These are big and chilling questions.

  • Spiritual practice: The point of spiritual practice is that we should develop life-giving, life-sustaining practices, habits, and resources when things are reasonably okay because we will need to rely on them for strength and peace and guidance when things are hard. So what practices are particularly appropriate for our kids today, when they're young, that will continue to serve them well as they grow older?

  • Family values like generosity, compassion, justice, and kindness, deeply rooted in our faith: These are some values that Sara and I have always tried to model and instill in our kids, and we're doing this intentionally, even in the midst of this pandemic, in little ways — like buying gelato and delivering it to the door of a single Mom who's part of our congregation; checking in with immigrant families and helping them navigate this difficult time; practicing random acts of kindness, like tying rolls of toilet paper on the door of every house on our street with a note from "the Toilet Paper Fairy." These things are fun, and they are reinforcing our family values, which are very much tied to our faith. We also talk a lot about the ways in which some groups of people are experiencing the impacts of COVID-19 (and climate chaos) disproportionately, and we think about how we can be part of a movement of compassion and justice.

  • Honoring each other's needs: Our 10-year-old is an extrovert, and she and I love the ocean, so we are intentionally visiting the beach a couple of times every week, just to walk, breathe in the salt air, sit on the sand and watch the waves crash in one after the other. I value the one-on-one time, and this is, implicitly, prayerful for both of us. Our 13-year-old is an introvert, so what she most needs is alone time, which is hard to come by when we're all at home 24/7 — so we intentionally go for walks and let her have some space. We're really trying to pay attention to and honor each other's needs, not always successfully.

  • Ritual: One of the things we've been doing, to set aside this time as radically different from other times, is to gather in our sunroom, where our TV is located, to watch a little bit of a show together most every evening. We watched the whole Anne With an E (Anne of Green Gables) series first, and now we're watching A Series of Unfortunate Events. This has been a nice bonding experience, and it leads to great family conversation. We've also had several family meetings, where we talk through hopes and disappointments and make some decisions together. Ritual can take many forms, and I believe it can be really meaningful within a family setting.

A colleague recently wrote in an email to me: "If I’m being honest, I’ve had difficulty finding the spiritual growth in all of this. Maybe when I look back on it I will see it, and I’m looking forward to [this conversation] but right now, I still feel like every day is survival mode, which includes my spouse and I trying not to transfer all of our stress and anger and anxiety onto our kids."

I can relate. Oh yes.

I'll be honest: most days it feels like a steep climb with very few footholds. Acknowledging how difficult this is, and connecting with others who are experiencing a similar reality brings comfort and a sense of solidarity.

This really is the good news is — that we are all in this together. There is strength and peace in knowing that, and knowing, also, that God is with us in the midst of every struggle, every frustration, every impossible challenge we face.

We've got a great panel in place for this conversation , and we hope you'll pass this on to someone you know who's in the parenting trenches.

Read on to access the recording of last week's online meetup, Pandemic in Perspective: Lessons in Resilience from the Global South, and for links to the recordings of all of our previous meetups as well as some outstanding podcast conversations.

Strength for the journey!
Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill
Executive Director
Spiritual Parenting: An Online Idea Swap for Pandemic-Weary Parents
Wednesday, May 27 • 8:15-9:30 pm (Eastern) • via Zoom
sponsored by The BTS Center
COVID-19 stretches and stresses parents in unique ways. Whether it's juggling the demands of remote learning while working from home, or adjusting to the closure of daycare centers, or processing the grief that our children and teens experience, or attending to the very real social and emotional needs of our children in the midst of the stay-at-home demands — or all of the above! — many parents and families are experiencing this as a particularly challenging time.

During this Online Idea Swap, several panelists — parents and spiritual leaders themselves — will reflect on the challenges and opportunities they are experiencing in this moment. We'll explore how parents are experimenting with faith and identity formation at home, and we'll consider ideas for grounding ourselves spiritually as parents during this time of physical distancing, communal anxiety, and complex grief.

The conversation will be moderated by  Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill  and  Rev. Nicole Diroff  of The BTS Center team.

Panelists will include:
  • Rabbi Michael Knopf, rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia, father of three young children
  • Rev. Effie McAvoy, pastor of York-Ogunquit United Methodist Church in Maine, and proud mother
  • Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW of Calabasas, CA, co-authors of Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness and parents of three young adult children
Pandemic in Perspective: Lessons in Resilience from the Global South
A Live Podcast Recording & Zoom Meetup for people of faith and conscience
with podcast host Ben Yosua-Davis and guest Rev. Dr. Kapya John Kaoma
We’ve been here before, even if it doesn’t feel like it for many of us in America. 

In this pandemic, as many people encounter for the first time what it looks like to lose control and experience open-ended vulnerability, we can turn to other parts of the world for wisdom as we seek to learn how to be resilient. 
Watch the Zoom meetup, recorded on May 21, 2020 , to hear from one of these wise voices, Rev. Dr. Kapya John Kaoma , rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Waltham, MA. Dr. Kaoma is a native Zambian, Visiting Researcher at the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University School of Theology, and a prominent human rights activist, who offers us bracingly refreshing insights about how churches across the world have responded to pandemics in the recent past and what the Global South can teach us about being out of control and having to adapt when circumstances change radically.

This Zoom Meetup took the form of a live podcast recording, in collaboration with Reports From the Spiritual Frontier. In this recording you will hear podcast host Ben Yosua-Davis interview Dr. Kaoma about his experiences, followed by some moderated audience Q&A.
Watch recordings of previous Zoom meetups

Visit this page to check out recordings of all of our recent Zoom meetups, including:
Reports From the Spiritual Frontier Podcast Creativity, Compassion, and the Coronavirus

The BTS Center is teaming up with the podcast  Reports from the Spiritual Frontier  to release a podcast series and other resources to support and equip faith leaders for this particular moment.

We are talking with faith leaders about how to move your communities to a digital space, how to stay spiritually grounded in the midst of the anxiety that swirls around us, and how you can best love your neighbors during this time of social isolation and fear.

Check out the podcast , consisting of (mostly) short, 15-20-minute conversations with insightful guests discussing ministry during COVID-19 — topics like The 101’s of Digital Community; staying spiritually grounded during COVID-19; The Black Church and COVID-19; Fearlessly Loving Leadership during COVID-19; backyard weddings and other life cycle moments during this pandemic; and meaning-filled funerals during COVID-19.
The BTS Center | 207.774.5212 | |
Allen Ewing-Merrill
Executive Director
Nicole Diroff
Program Director
Kay Ahmed
Office Manager
Thank you for your gift to  The BTS Center , the mission successor to Bangor Theological Seminary. 
Our mission is to catalyze spiritual imagination with enduring wisdom for transformative faith leadership.
We equip and support faith leaders for theologically grounded and effective 21st-century ministries.