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The Perpetual Pivot

Ministry in the Pandemic and Beyond

Book cover of The Perpetual Pivot by Susan Cartmell

A lot has been written about the challenges for front line workers in the COVID 19 pandemic, but what about the clergy?

Churches rely on close encounters. The more crowded the better. They foster experiences where people gather to pass food, receive sacraments, sing boldly, greet strangers. All these activities were suddenly off-limits and even dangerous in this international pandemic. That meant, suddenly the clergy had to re-imagine everything they knew about leading worship, visiting the sick, and reaching out to those in need.

Over two years we interviewed 53 clergy from Cape Cod to Alaska, from Florida to California and gathered their stories about how they persevered. We learned how they re-invented worship online, how they found ways to minister to the sick, how they invented new programs to help the needy.


We heard amazing stories about how they carried their people through this international crisis with grit and courage. The Perpetual Pivot is their story, the story of their challenges and creativity. It’s a story about how these faith leaders found their own faith being tested, and how some resigned and retired but not before they worked hard to make a difference in the lives of others.


The pandemic came at a time when most churches were already in a season of change, a time of transition. Mainline Protestant denominations were reporting record losses of members, and many congregations were already in steep decline. But as clergy lived through the pandemic, even with its expanding online audiences, they began to question how this public health crisis would reshape their work and the institutions that they served.


The Storytellers

Patrick Wrisley

“The stained glass of the future is the video screen.”


- Rev. Patrick Wrisley, Ft Lauderdale, FL

The Authors

Peggy O'Connor

Peggy O’Connor

Rev. Peggy O’Connor has eighteen years of experience as an interim pastor working with congregations through times of transition and change. She has also concurrently been a spiritual director in both Lowell and Boston, Massachusetts. Recently she has served as Chaplain Administrator of the United Church of Christ Society at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Prior to becoming a pastor, Peggy was a psychotherapist in Maine. For our book, she brought her experience as a pastor, spiritual director, and psycho- therapist to the interview process. She is fascinated by the similarity and uniqueness of the stories we are hearing as well as the ways this experience has affected clergy.

Susan Cartmell

After forty years as a minister, Susan was part of the Great Resignation and left her position as settled pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC in Harwich Port, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2021. Motivated by the unique opportunity to do this research and write about how the pandemic has affected faith leaders, she pivoted from being a full-time pastor to conducting interviews with colleagues. Then in 2022, after there was a draft of this book, she took a position as interim senior pastor at First Congregational in Appleton, Wisconsin. Navigating church life and leading a congregation as the church emerged from this pan- demic gave her a chance to live into the questions in this book, which added clarity to the editing process.

Susan Cartmell

Our Questions

What was your biggest challenge?

What are you most proud of?

How has the pandemic experience changed the way you lead and how you see your role as a religious leader?

How has the pandemic shaped you as a pastor?


Contact us and let us know your answers to these questions.

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