For many serving in parish ministry, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be one of frustration, individually as well as for the parishes in which they serve and worship. But Julianne Stanz had some wisdom to share with those serving the Diocese of Trenton.

“It is no coincidence that we [in particular] are living through a pandemic time; Christ will be with us and equip us for the time we are living in,” she said. “I want to reframe what’s happening now as a time of possibility and encouragement.”

Stanz, director of discipleship and leadership development for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., spoke to parish ministry leaders Aug. 19 during a webinar titled “Finding Strength to Move Forward in Ministry,” sponsored by the diocesan Office of Pastoral Life and Mission. About 215 people viewed the webinar, and follow-up discussions for ministry leaders took place the week of Aug. 25 to share ideas and best practices.

A consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catechesis and Evangelization, Stanz is a renowned speaker and author of several books, including “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church” and “Developing Disciples of Christ.”

“The last few months have been challenging for all of us both personally and as a Church,” said Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, who introduced the webinar. “When it became abundantly clear that going back to where things were will not happen anytime soon, [we determined] we have to move forward.”

Ginther first encountered Stanz at a conference of Catholic leaders in Florida in 2017.

Referencing a Sunday Gospel reading from July, Stanz recalled the story of Jesus walking on the water toward the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee during a terrible storm, likening it to the current storm of the coronavirus. When Peter loses his gaze on Jesus, he begins to sink and cries out to Jesus.

“Our boats are going to look different, but we are all facing the same storm,” she explained. “If we focus on the storm instead of Jesus, we’re going to sink … keep your gaze fixed on Jesus, who calls us out of the boat – and he will catch us.”

A friend of Stanz’s told her she stopped calling 2020 the “year of the pandemic” and began calling it “The Great Pause of 2020.”

“The way we live, grieve, celebrate milestones and do formation has changed,” she reflected. “Yet the hope we are called to in Jesus is the same as it was for the disciples 2,000 years ago … do not be afraid to be bold and lean in to this time, bringing hope and encouragement to others.”

Stanz recalled the devastation left behind in 1945 when the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. One of the only living things to survive the blast, though they appeared dead on the outside, was the native ginkgo trees.

“The Japanese call the ginkgo tree the ‘bearer of hope.’ It has deep roots, bark that protects it, and leaves that adapt to grow again,” Stanz said, explaining that the deep roots of the Church are Jesus, the bark that protects is the Church’s healing, and the leaves that adapt are the Church’s hospitality.

“A Church centered on renewal is one of hope, healing and hospitality. The Church did not close during the pandemic, because you and I are the Church, and we did not close,” she continued. “Our structures looked stripped away and have moved online – but the Gospel is portable and sharable, adaptable; it’s nimble and flexible – and so are we.”

Encouraging ministers to use their imagination to connect to people where they are, Stanz asked them to reflect on “what is the spiritual moment that God is calling us to” as their specific mission field. Participants responded with a variety of suggestions, including “deep, empathetic listening,” “capturing the gifts of God in the chaos” and “waking up from complacency.”

“We need to abandon the complacent attitude that says, ‘We have always done it this way,’” she suggested. “We have to live with fresh ways of thinking and being … not rethinking doctrine or dogma – but can we change our goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization? You bet.

“Your life might be the only Gospel that somebody else reads,” Stanz continued. “Can you share your witness with boldness, joy and creativity?”