Stay home, stay safe. Just over a year ago, the nationwide lockdown in response to COVID-19 sparked a season of isolation. As information changed daily, uncertainty increased and many churches closed doors for safety. Yet, in that time, creative methods of connection began to emerge.
Four young pastors in the Texico Conference started an online Sabbath School program. It united districts as far apart as Central Texas to Northern New Mexico. Those pastors, Isaí Ramírez, Joel Navarro, Eliab Quinones and Josh Ramirez, not only discussed the Sabbath School lesson, but also worked together to create connection in their church families.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, we thought that the lockdown would be a one-to-two week deal,” said Navarro. “But once we saw that it would be longer than two weeks, and that people were really getting scared and locking themselves up at home, we felt that we needed to find a way to connect with the people around us.”
At that time, Zoom, or other video conference software, was not yet in wide use in those church districts. So these pastors filmed discussions each week to share digitally. “By filming our Sabbath School discussions, we could create a bigger district and produce content to hopefully help people feel a little less alone,” said Navarro.
“When our church ministries, services and activities came to a sudden halt, it was wonderful to note that our young pastors hardly missed a beat. They have grown up in a digital environment and they just naturally gravitated to methods to not only remain connected with each other, but they found wonderful opportunities to bring ministry to people who were likewise feeling disconnected from their church families,” Texico Secretary/Treasurer Phil Roberston shared.
Each of those four pastors are still in their first church districts since graduating from university or seminary. At the time, the process of recording videos together also helped them to feel less alone as new pastors. After each recording, they would sometimes stay on the video chat for several hours, talking and catching up with each other. “I was able to spend time with friends and colleagues,” said Josh Ramirez. “It was a blessing, especially in a time that we all lacked social interactions.”
That’s when Isaí Ramírez and Joel Navarro came up with a new idea: To create a podcast that would capture the essence of those conversations. Ultimately, they wanted to spark authentic conversation and to share a sense of community. The podcast, called Redefining Humanity, would be more than a sermon or devotional. It would be an open discussion about what it means to be human.
“The hope is that people will have authentic conversations about whatever topic we’re discussing,” said Isaí Ramírez. “Our guests don’t have to be famous or well-known, but just someone who can give an additional or different perspective than Joel and I have. That’s brilliant. The more diverse of a perspective we can share, hopefully the more people will relate.”
The desire to be authentic is at the heart of their podcast. As young pastors, Ramírez and Navarro found themselves in districts with a majority membership from older generations. It became a challenge for them to check their expectations of ministry against the reality of pastorship within well-established churches.
Then the pandemic hit and changed everything. In addition, tragedy touched the Navarro family. In November 2019, Navarro’s father passed away. “My father was my life mentor,” said Navarro. “He was a pastor and he was the reason that I wanted to become a pastor. I was probably mildly depressed for the rest of that year and for the start of 2020. Through that, one thing I’ve discovered is that authenticity matters more than having everything figured out.
“It’s about being more than doing… To be authentic… Connected… Available… That goes a long way.”
With the support of each other, and with the help of mentors such as Lee-Roy Chacon, president of the Texico Conference, Navarro and Ramírez were able to refocus and reexamine what it means to work in ministry. “When I was first going into ministry, and especially with the pandemic, all my expectations were thrown out the window,” said Ramírez. “My advice to people interested in ministry is to be patient and adaptable. You have to be sure that your ministry is doing what Jesus calls it to do, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
“The Texico Conference is grateful for the ingenuity and resourcefulness of these young pastors,” Chacon shared. “Employing Zoom and tools like podcasting the way they have really demonstrates their commitment to ministry.”
Now, over a year after the initial 2020 isolation, Rediscovering Humanity is in its second season of podcasting. It’s available on Spotify and other streaming websites. The lessons learned from being a young pastor during lockdown will continue to carry throughout the ministries of Isaí Ramírez, Joel Navarro, Eliab Quinones and Josh Ramirez, as well as other young pastors throughout the world.
By Makala James. James is a freelance writer based in Granbury, Texas.