Communion and community during COVID-19

October 7, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 21
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld | Special to Canadian Mennonite
Pastor Craig Neufeld and deacon Debbie Baergen are ready to serve communion in a “covid friendly” way at Edmonton’s First Mennonite Church, Sept. 27, 2020. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

For many congregants, the invitation to receive communion at Edmonton’s First Mennonite Church on Sunday, Sept. 27 would mark the first time they had physically set foot in the building for six months. For Maggie Martens it was “an invitation I wasn’t going to pass up.” Martens lives alone and finds that Zoom communion via computer is missing something important—the community that is such a vital part of being the church together.

Upon entering the sanctuary, Martens spent time sitting in her usual spot. Being in the familiar pew,  she says, “it just felt like I had arms around me. My friends, God, and our church community.” Martens greatly appreciated the opportunity to be physically present with a few others during communion while still feeling safe. “Everything was being done so responsibly.” she said. 

The procedure for communion was anything but familiar. Those wishing to participate called ahead to schedule a time so that physical distance could be easily observed. Face masks, hand sanitizing, a brief health questionnaire, and sign-in preceded entry into the sanctuary. The pastor or deacon serving communion wore gloves and used tongs to handle the elements. The comments read to welcome participants to the table affirmed, “Communion is an act of the community. . .we recognize that in these special circumstances, we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses and are connected spiritually to these larger communities.”

Mildred and Ernie Wiens also came to receive communion. “It was kind of nice to walk into the building, so nice and peaceful,” Ernie said. Entering the sanctuary, they went to look at the memorial board where names of members who have passed away are mounted on small plaques. Ernie works with this memorial, ensuring that it is kept up to date. He said he looked “to remind myself of the names on the board and the names that have been placed on there in the last while.” 

First Mennonite, like many other churches, has had to find creative ways to celebrate lives and conduct funerals while restrictions prevent the normal rituals and gatherings that allow families and congregations to mourn and find comfort together. “We can’t forget them,” Wiens said. 

First Mennonite’s worship service has been exclusively online since the end of March and, until September, the communion services were all virtual as well. When Pastor Craig Neufeld and the worship team saw the Sept. 27 materials suggested by Mennonite Church Alberta for its three-year plan for Encountering, Embracing, and Embodying Christ (E3), they were inspired to invite congregants to physically re-enter the church, even though in-person services are still not happening. The E3 worship materials suggested that each of the 12 churches of MCA set up a tree visual in their buildings and invite people to make a commitment (small or large) to grow spiritually, to write this on a paper leaf, and to go to their church to put their leaf on the visual. 

The E3 planning group realized that this could be the first time in months that many people would set foot in their buildings. Pastor Neufeld said that adding communion to this invitation to First Mennonite was a way of “making the return that much more meaningful.”

Related stories:
Niagara churches reopening
Navigating reopening
Marking end-of-life rituals during the pandemic

Pastor Craig Neufeld and deacon Debbie Baergen are ready to serve communion in a “covid friendly” way at Edmonton’s First Mennonite Church, Sept. 27, 2020. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, executive minister of Mennonite Church Alberta, receives communion from deacon Debbie Baergen at Edmonton First Mennonite. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, executive minister of Mennonite Church Alberta, adds a leaf, signifying a commitment to a spiritual practice, to the E3 tree visual at Edmonton First Mennonite Church. Beginning in 2020, MCA congregations are committing themselves to a 3 year action plan for renewal, Encountering, Embracing, and Embodying Christ. For more information go to: https://mcab.ca/e3-mca. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

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