“It is so good to connect with each other.” In my role as executive minister of Mennonite Church Alberta, I have heard this sentiment expressed many times in many different ways. It is a feeling I heard expressed again on a Monday evening in late June as I met with the church chairs from the congregations of the regional church.
Together with moderator Brenda Tiessen-Wiens, we gathered by Zoom to check in with each other, share thoughts and challenges, and support each other. While our pastors have a long history of regular meetings, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of nurturing other connections within our church family. In previous weeks, I had been involved in meetings with other lay leaders, including church treasurers and office administrators.
As we went “around the screen,” it was to be expected that COVID-19 featured prominently in our conversation. People shared how their congregations have been coping with the health restrictions and figuring out ways to safely “be church together.” We heard about efforts to express fellowship and care when restrictions prohibited in-person gatherings. We learned about different approaches to worship, whether online or in person, within health guidelines. We heard about navigating difficult conversations and differing opinions. We celebrated God’s presence when conversations were guided by a spirit of respect, love and peace.
With Alberta’s pandemic restrictions set to end on July 1, we spent time sharing how congregations were approaching reopening plans. Several challenges were highlighted, including:
- Acknowledging the need to mourn losses of the past year, including times when gathering limits meant funerals could not include the full faith community.
- Navigating the tension between those eager to fully reopen and those more comfortable with moving more slowly.
- Recognizing how the pandemic may have affected the ability of our faith communities to reach out to newcomers, who may have had a harder time feeling connected.
- Realizing that some have found they are able to experience church more fully online than in person, leading to the need to figure out hybrid ways of worshipping and being together.
It was encouraging to hear how congregations were approaching challenges like these, and striving to do so in Christ-like ways.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes: “We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body . . . promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (4:15b-16).
As I listened to the sharing that day, I experienced a group of leaders striving to faithfully build up the body in love. In the first days of the COVID-19 crisis a video circulated of short clips from Mennonite pastors across Canada, each sharing the simple message, “You are not alone.” The past 16 months of health restrictions have forced us to look for different ways to connect with each other and to be the community God calls us to be.
I am grateful for the many ways God brings people together even during a pandemic, whether for support or for fellowship, whether within our faith family or beyond it.