COVID-19 / peer learning groups

Peer Learning Groups in the Age of COVID

By Layne Smith

When will we be able to gather safely in person with friends, colleagues, coworkers, and extended family members? So many of us are “Zoomed” out. We dread looking at the screen with everyone in a little box. We long to regain some sense of normalcy in our lives. We miss the touch, the handshake, the embrace. Hopefully we are headed toward better days.

In the meantime, we must be creative and use our imaginations to at least partially meet these relational needs. This is true with our Peer Learning Groups. Until we get COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror, we must think and act in different ways.

Some of our PLGs are not meeting at all right now. They haven’t met even digitally for some time. Why? Pastoral teams are busy keeping worship, spiritual formation, mission work, and the rest of congregational life afloat in these unprecedented times.

What can we do now to help keep PLGs vital? Here are a few ideas. These are merely some beginning thoughts. Add to them!

  • Invite a well-respected clergyperson, professor, or Christian thinker to speak to your PLG for an hour about any topic of their choosing (via Zoom, of course). Negotiate any honorarium upfront so that there are no surprises for the guest or your PLG. Go as big as you dare in terms of the invitation. All that person can do is to say no or ask for more of an honorarium than your PLG can afford. Before the internet existed, our church would invite a guest of significant stature to speak to our congregation on Sunday evenings. We would patch the phone into the PA system. Usually there was no cost except for the long-distance phone call. (You remember long-distance phone calls, don’t you?) NOTE: If your PLG has not applied for a new grant since October 1, 2020, you are eligible to apply for another. The additional funding can help cover an honorarium.
  • If your PLG meets in person, when the weather permits, plan a socially-distanced outdoor gathering.
  • Begin making plans for a fall 2021 retreat, something to look forward to while you cannot meet in person.

Finally, don’t press it. It’s alright to not meet as frequently as long as you plan for the future. Be kind to yourselves. We’ve never been here before. Things will improve. Hopefully very soon we will have the opportunity to be glad in each other’s presence.

Layne Smith is PLG Regional Director for North Carolina, Virginia, and the Mid-Atlantic.

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