Kenny and Jill Bunker
The challenges of being a new pastor amidst the COVID pandemic
By ARIANA R. CHERRY
Moving into a new community and being assigned to a new church can be quite daunting -especially after spending the previous five years creating connections, adjusting to a church’s schedule and learning people’s personalities. You literally have to pack up your household, say farewell to established relationships and then move to the next “assignment.” If that doesn’t sound difficult enough during any other time in your life, imagine doing this during a pandemic. As a pastor, you may not get to meet everyone in person during the first few Sundays.
Businesses and schools in the community aren’t “running as usual.” Then there are the home-visits – if you are able to do them or even if a parishioner feels comfortable to do so.
Pastor Jill Bunker left her last assignment in southern Illinois (Trinity Charge: Clay City, Bethel and Harmony) during the first half of the pandemic and then began her new one, here in the Arthur community just as the pandemic was getting underway. And even though it may have been a challenge at times, she has remained to keep the congregation of the Arthur United Methodist Church engaged and connected while the Arthur community has welcomed her with open arms.
“I cannot imagine a more welcoming circumstance for an incoming pastor. Obviously, it has not been an ideal situation. That said, the church and its people have made the most of the last nine months I believe,” Pastor Jill Bunker said.
Even before she was assigned here in Arthur, Pastor Jill was already quite familiar with the community.
“First of all, I loved the community before I was assigned here. I can’t say enough about how friendly the people have been. We enjoy all of the tourist spots in town, and with our grandchildren here, the parks are appreciated as well,” she said.
Even though times have been quite trying with the pandemic, Pastor Jill always seems to keep a positive outlook. Her wonderful sense of humor keeps the congregation at AUMC on their toes and provides a sense of release- as we all know, laughter can be some of the best medicine. She always seems to have a smile on her face, a nice word to say and cares deeply about all of her members – no matter if they are attending in person or still staying shuttered mostly at home while watching online. Pastor Jill regularly makes phone calls and does home visits where she is able. Sometimes though, there were still a few roadblocks along the way.
“I believe the challenge of not being able to worship in person was the largest issue (during COVID) simply because it was new. The idea that people who crave to be together could not, was more than difficult. Another issue was the inability to serve the meal on Wednesday’s inside as has always been the case,” she explained.
Slowly, more members of AUMC are coming back to worship, but there are still others who have to remain safe until they receive their vaccines or the area reaches herd immunity. During this time, Pastor Jill has found ways to keep people engaged, reach out to the community while keeping focus on her main goal.
“I thought it was important from day one to try to engage people somehow most every day, so I began doing a daily devotion on Facebook Live. During lent we did a weekly Lenten prayer service, and recently, I began a Bible Study at Gardenview Estates for the residents who live there and others who wish to attend. I look forward to other ideas I have as restrictions continue to be rescinded,” Pastor Jill informed. “I believe my overriding goal is to simply bring the gospel to the people of the congregation. I also think it is vital for any church to be a church that spreads the gospel. I hope to be even a more active member of the community as we continue to go forward together,” she added.
Pastor Jill looks forward to pastoring at the Arthur United Methodist Church and being more out in the community. “I just feel so fortunate to be a pastor working in this faith community. I can assure you that many people would love to trade places with me,” she concluded.