“Know we are connected in ways that are terrible and beautiful.”
Last week I lingered over this line in a poem by Lynn Ungar on Facebook as I pondered the COVID-19 crisis. I am living into this crisis in Germany, where the pandemic has struck ahead of North America, and have struggled between hunkering down and waiting it out, or flying in the midst of possibly infected crowds to self-quarantine at home in Canada.
My husband Peter and I arrived in January to spend half a year with the Weierhof Mennonite Church and Mennonite Forschungsstelle (Archives) as senior volunteers. The congregation is currently without a pastor and needed some help filling the resulting gaps. And archives, well, they always need someone to sort donated materials.
This small, rural community, in which Swiss Mennonites began to farm in 1682, is surprisingly connected to Mennonites around the world. A founder of the Mennonite World Conference came from Weierhof. Many volunteers and partners for Mennonite Central Committee’s work in Europe came from here. They have received and sent many volunteers to Mennonite communities, and their private school has an exchange program with Rockway Mennonite Collegiate in Kitchener, Ont. Beautiful connections.
When I delivered a sermon on World Fellowship Sunday in January, I felt ever so connected with Canada as I preached from resources developed by Manitobans. In addition, Leader Magazine’s resources for Lent have helped connect the Weierhof faith community with North America and the church season. Leader’s Lenten themes and scriptures found their way into a devotional booklet and another sermon or two. More beautiful connections.
And now this rather terrible connection, COVID-19, which is also affecting you, dear congregations in Canada. Public gatherings here are largely forbidden. Only shops offering essential services remain open. Some people panic, others slow down. We take more walks and reflect.
Yesterday, as we sat at a safe two-metre distance from each other, a 90-year-old widow reflected with me on how different this was from her wartime experiences. During wartime, at least people had been able to embrace and cry on each other’s shoulders. Clearly, the directive to stay physically distant seemed harsh, especially as her birthday approached.
At the same time, we are finding ways of connecting and reaching out. The worship committee decided to use Zoom for its next planning meeting. The streaming of congregation’s worship services, which had rather restrictive access regulations, is being opened up. Worship content will still be recorded in the church with five people there to sing, play organ, preach, pray and record. As I write this, this week’s Lenten theme, “Show us the rock of our salvation,” seems so relevant that we may just use it for next week’s service as well. So, even the terrible connection of this virus is the bearer of blessings.
Peace be with you as you weather beautiful and terrible connections.
Elsie Rempel writes Lenten resources for Leader magazine.