Recently seen online: a quote on a black T-shirt: “The church has left the building.”
The worldwide spread of the latest coronavirus has drastically changed the way we live and move in these days. We avoid public gatherings, including weekly worship and other church activities. People across the world are hunkering down at home in order to limit physical contact with others. Experts believe that this kind of separation will lessen the chances of the as-yet-incurable virus spreading, or at least will slow down its rate of contagion. This flatten-the-curve effort will help the medical systems better deal with the cases of COVID-19 that do occur.
Many Christians closed their church buildings out of civic responsibility and because of their commitment to care for others. In this time of crisis, loving your neighbour can mean staying apart.
Yet we are still called to “be” the church. Traditionally, Anabaptist Christians have recognized that the building is not the church. We gather for worship in a “meetinghouse” or the “church building.” As No. 1 in Hymnal: A Worship Book proclaims, it is “only a house, the earth its floor.” The building shelters “a body that lives when we are gathered here.”
Some of our Mennonite sisters and brothers already know this, as over the years they have met in homes, schools, camps, parks and coffee shops. The worship rituals, the proclaiming of God’s Word, the prayer, the sharing and the acts of hospitality sustain us, whether or not we meet in a space deemed holy.
What does it mean to live as the church when we cannot gather in a building? We are discovering new ways of sustaining and practising our faith in an era of physical distancing. Practical, sensitive, creative and even humorous solutions are emerging from within our denomination and beyond. Groups are meeting through video conferencing, to stay connected and pray together. Congregations are offering recorded and livestreamed worship services. Churches are encouraging donations through online methods. Pastoral care is happening through social media, phone calls and notes.
In mid-March, Mennonite Church Canada posted a worship service on YouTube with music, prayers, a sermon and even a time for children. You can access it at mennonitechurch.ca, along with updated information. Also check out the websites of the five regional churches for links to resources and worship services: mcec.ca, mennochurch.mb.ca, mcsask.ca, mcab.ca, and mcbc.ca. Signing up for their e-newsletters will keep you connected to regional resources.
A reminder: There are those among us who are not connected to the capabilities of the internet. Let’s extend love by “being church” with them in other ways.
As members of the worldwide faith community, we pray for those who choose to leave home to help others: the health-care providers, and the producers and providers of food and of other essential services. We also pray for people who have no safe home to shelter in and for those who continue to work on their behalf.
Living in a time when the church has left the building, we heed the ongoing call to extend God’s gracious love to everyone. Another hymn says, “I bind my soul this day to the neighbour far way and the stranger near at hand, in this town and in this land.” What new ways can we find to practice that commitment?
Helping you connect
It is difficult to predict when our print magazine will reach your mailbox in the coming weeks. Some of our content appears on the CM website, so you can read it at canadianmennonite.org. Now would be a good time to sign up for a digital subscription, which gives you access to the entire magazine in a PDF format. (If you attend a congregation that is part of Mennonite Church Canada, your subscription fee is paid for collectively through the church.) You can add a digital subscription by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with “Add digital” in the subject line.
In the spirit of staying connected, let’s share stories of Mennonites living out their faith during this health crisis. You can send them to our address (on page 3) or email them to email@example.com.
Moving toward Eastertime, Christians remember the God who could not be contained by a tomb. No one can cancel Easter. May we live as faithful disciples until the time when we can again gather to sing “Up from the grave he arose!”