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Pastoral message from Rev. Susan Nienaber

By: Rev. Susan Nienaber

Neinaber Quote

Photo illustration created by Kelsey Morgan, Dakotas United Methodist Foundation.

Rev. Nienaber currently serves as the superintendent for the Big Waters District for the Minnesota Conference. In July, she will serve as the Director of Ministries for the Dakotas Conference.

While we have all been dealing with the impact of COVID-19 this week, I was remembering that my grandfather’s parents and baby brother died in the 1889-1895 flu pandemic when he was just 2 years old. This deadly influenza pandemic killed about 1 million people worldwide. As I was struggling to wrap my mind around the long-term impact of coronavirus on our congregations, denomination, political election, stock market, unemployment rate, and population, I thought about the long-term impact of the flu pandemic on my grandfather. While I only knew my grandfather, Floyd, late in his life, it was clear to me that he had been deeply traumatized by the loss of his family early in his life. On the front end of the COVID-19 worldwide crisis, none of us can fully grasp the possible long-term impacts. I know I can’t wrap my head around it. This is such unchartered territory. Scripture offers many helpful stories, Psalms, and laments that provide comfort in times like these. The Minnesota cabinet read this passage together this week in our devotions, and I wanted to share it with you:

"You who are my Comforter in sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”
20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”
21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?"
                                                                                          Jeremiah 8:18-22
What also comforts me in overwhelming times when I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel is trusting that the Spirit is powerfully at work in all of this, even if I can’t see it right now. I know that a path is opening up even now in the midst of all of the pain, confusion, and fear. Another thing that helps me is seeing how God is present with us in the ordinary day to day moments – sort of like the quail that plops down at our feet, the gift of manna or the springing water that appears. Poetry also helps me a great deal. A poem called “Lockdown,” written by a priest in Ireland named Brother Richard Hendrick, also helped me this week, and I hope it helps you too.


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