“Find us empty and wandering . . . find us in the wilderness, and fill us with your feast.”
This lyric by Phil Campbell-Enns, pastor of Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, is from a song that was chosen for the first Mennonite Church Canada online worship service on March 22. At the time, it perfectly described where we found ourselves and how we felt.
We were just entering the season of Lent when COVID-19 cases and lockdown measures swept across our country in mid-March. Churches closed. We were bewildered. Across the nationwide church we asked, “What does it mean to be the church when we cannot gather for worship? How can we be church when we are not together?”
Prompted by the Spirit’s leading, one congregation, then another, and then another, invited our nationwide family to join them for Sunday worship in the weeks after that initial service. Our sisters and brothers led songs, gave sermons and shared children’s features, planning their services with our nationwide family in mind.
We celebrated Good Friday in Calgary, Easter in Lethbridge, Ascension Sunday in Vancouver, and Pentecost in Springstein, Man. We continued to celebrate together Sunday after Sunday, all summer long. What a feast it has been! Hundreds watched every week. Never has the MC Canada YouTube channel site seen so much traffic.
But as we feasted, we were consistently reminded through prayers, songs and rituals of the many in our country, and globally, who suffer the brunt of the pandemic. Lost jobs, lost social networks, loneliness, isolation and despair. Even lost lives. Pastors and worship leaders encouraged us to pray for our sisters and brothers near and far who were wondering “How long, O Lord?” They encouraged us to “trust in God’s steadfast love, rejoicing in [God’s] salvation” (Psalm 13:1,3,5).
These services have changed us. Week after week, I have received notes and phone calls from members of our nationwide community of faith who were grateful and appreciative of these services. One person wrote wonderful words of thanks that I want to pass on to our wider church family, especially those who shared their services with us: “I just wanted to thank you for providing the video church services from across Canada during this time of church closures. It was very interesting to be a part of various types of worship. I felt connected spiritually to the larger Mennonite family for the first time . . . these were uplifting and meaningful to my personal spiritual growth. I looked forward to each one!”
Sept. 6 was the final shared Sunday service, though. But we hope to keep this tradition alive in some form in the months to come.
Preparing these services has also made us think about what it means to be the church in this time. What is our core identity? What is the essence of who we are as the Body of Christ? We will explore these questions and more at our virtual study conference in October. Please be sure to register at mennonitechurch.ca/tabletalk2020.
Doug Klassen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive minister of MC Canada.