Julian “J. Kwest” DeShazier is known as a national speaker, advocate, and emcee. But amidst all of the various hats this multi-talented brother wears, he is also a committed pastor. He joined me in a conversation this past week about his experience pastoring University Church in Hyde Park during the coronavirus pandemic and shared some valuable insight on how we can support each other during this time of crisis.
Check out a preview of our conversation below.
Interview Date: April 4, 2020
Jocelyn: Can you give us just a sense of what this last month has been like for you? What was your thought process like when you realized the coronavirus was going to be a very serious problem, and how did your church respond?
Rev. Julian: As the pastor, my first question was, how can I care for people and care for myself at the same time? How can we find ways to connect with each other?
And these are the questions honestly that we should be asking always. These are not just coronavirus questions. But the urgency of the moment, makes us ask them even more forcefully and with more urgency. But I'm always thinking about how, as a pastor, I can help people feel connected to the community, connected to God, and help them also work through some of the things that they're going through.
Jocelyn: What are some of the new or more creative methods you’ve had to use to pastor during this time?
Rev. Julian: I think about the idea of a pastor as the shepherd, as being able to help point and direct people in certain directions, but not necessarily do the work for them. This is important to distinguish for me because if I know that there's somebody who needs help who lives in Oak Park, instead of me trying to get up and drive 45 minutes, I can ask someone who lives by them to help fulfill that need. So let's see if we can put together some groups of people who can support each other, in different geographies across the city, so that if one of our members' needs to go to the grocery store or needs something else, then we can be there to help them.
And so, for me, I've really seen this work at this moment, by calling upon the leadership of others, and the skills of others who are willing- who are able to say, "Hey let's be the body of Christ. Let's be ministers right now. Let's be a church full of ministers and not a church with one minister.” And so, I think that kind of creativity has come out of this moment and I hope it will last long after this moment has passed.
Jocelyn: In what ways can people support their pastors during this time?
Rev. Julian: We can't carry this moment by ourselves, we can't carry the institution by ourselves, it's just too heavy to carry, but it's always like that. Maybe that's not the Gospel to say that the pastor should carry it. And so, I've been surprised and my heart has been warmed every moment of this crisis by the people in the church who sent emails, who called and said, "Hey if you need something, we got you, pastor. You stay at home to... You're not going to be the only one going out. We'll share this risk together, and we'll share this work together, and we'll share the mandate from God to love each other.” That's something that's not just my job, but it's something that belongs to the people and they've stepped up in a major way.
Jocelyn: What has been the biggest challenge for you during this time?
Rev. Julian: I miss the ability to be with the people. And this is really challenging for me because I want to see people, I want to hug people, I want to be present with folks. So, I think one of the most challenging things for me is preaching (online) without the people physically present. Although they are in my heart and I’m thinking about them, I find that to be very difficult.
Jocelyn: There has been a lot of division amongst people in the church over the last week, regarding how pastors should have responded to this pandemic. What are your thoughts about that?
Rev. Julian: I believe there was a moment where stopping our services and putting them online was not a matter of fear, but a matter of protecting people and protecting the most vulnerable, and that's something that I wish that pastors would also think about in regards to their faithfulness. All throughout the Hebrew Bible and even in the ministry of Jesus, we see a special sensitivity to the most vulnerable and God says that is what righteousness is. And so, I just want to be righteous. When we stopped the (in-person) services, is not because I wanted to or I didn’t want to preach that week. No, it is because there are people who are especially vulnerable and let's not make them more vulnerable... And so to be able to have something in a place where we're saying, "Look we want to see you, but we want you to stay alive, we want you to stay healthy.” That is the Gospel, just as much and if not more than saying that we're going to gather (physically) on Sundays for the gospel.