As the pandemic continues, all in- person church programs have been cancelled and new ways of staying connected have been established. Sunday School and youth events have gone online. Committee meetings are on Zoom. Sunday morning worship services are accessed in various ways.
As not all seniors have a computer, staying connected has been challenging. Now, more conversations with seniors are taking place over the telephone than in person. New and creative ideas have become the norm.
Vineland United Mennonite Church has a seniors group called Vintage 55, which meets monthly for lunch and to listen to a speaker; it has not met during the pandemic. An intergenerational event planning team is active in keeping every household in the congregation connected. The team delivered 250 brown bags of goodies, including chocolate and other candy, at Christmas, reminiscent of Christmas brown bags of long ago. A Valentine/Friendship mailing, filled with word games and puzzles, came in February, with daffodils delivered in April. Sending cards via “snail mail” and making telephone calls are ways of staying connected. Quilting in the auditorium continued when the province was not in lockdown, with a limit of 10 senior women working at a distance on individual quilt frames, following all the provincial guidelines.
Pastor Louise Wideman says, “Zoom has not been used for corporate worship at all. Worship services are offered through livestream only.” She electronically sends out a congregational sharing note every Wednesday and Saturday. Those with a computer print it out, to share with those living close by who are not online.
The First Mennonite Church in Vineland has an extremely small group of seniors, who are regular participants in weekly Zoom worship services, and occasional Zoom educational sessions. All programing is intergenerational. Pastoral staff and deacons are connecting with individual seniors on an ad-hoc basis.
St. Catharines United Mennonite Church has an active Seniors Fellowship, which is not meeting during lockdown. The pastoral team, as well as the Care and Connect Ministry that consists of a group of church members, connects with seniors on a regular basis via telephone calls during this time.
According to Pastor Randy Klaassen, “Seniors with access to internet devices use them for worship services. Those that do not have internet access, but have cable service, have made it a practice to watch Niagara United Mennonite Church’s worship services regularly on Sunday mornings.” A drive-in worship service was held on May 30, with about 65 people attending, sitting in their cars during the service.
At Grace Mennonite Church in St. Catharines, it has been a priority to provide intentional access to meaningful worship experiences through audio recordings, written outlines, weekly emails, delivery of a printed copy of the service or a CD to read and listen to. One of the People Care Network team members sends encouragement note cards to dozens of people, mostly seniors. Pastoral care is done almost entirely by telephone.
At Niagara United Mennonite, services on Sunday morning are on cable TV, alternating between English and German. The Women in Service group members have continued to quilt in their own homes. The ladies breakfast group continues to meet by email. Linda Friesen sends out invitations and adds a theme for the breakfast meeting. Responses in the form of stories come to her, and she then forwards these stories to each woman via email. At the designated breakfast hour, each woman eats at home while reading these stories. Friesen says, “It is a way of keeping the group alive and connected while we wait for in-person times.”
At Bethany Mennonite Church in Virgil, worship services are livestreamed. Unfortunately, not all members are able to connect in this way. According to Pastor Herb Sawatzky, all pastoral care has become a phone ministry for people of all ages. This is a practice he would like to continue after the pandemic. Quilts continue to be made by individuals in their homes. Zoom coffee time happen every Sunday following the worship service on YouTube. This started in February of this year and is open to everyone, but it is mainly the 50- to 90-year-olds who take part, sharing about themselves and their families.