At a time when many churches are dealing with declining numbers in their pews, Hamilton (Ont.) Mennonite Church has grown. Membership in 1965 was 28; before the pandemic attendances averaged about 70 each Sunday; then, in 2020, attendance more than doubled.
Pastor Alissa Bender said that, within the first week of COVID-19 closures in March of last year, the church started online prayer events. The group read through the Anabaptist prayer book, Take Our Moments and Our Days, whose four-week cycle of morning and evening prayers focus on the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ parables and his miracles. Meetings were held twice a week on Zoom, with each session lasting between 20 to 25 minutes.
This year, the group is praying through Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, which includes a tapestry of prayers that celebrate the best of different traditions and denominations. Sessions are again being held on Zoom at midday on Wednesdays. There are nine regular participants and others watch the recorded session later.
Bill Fledderus, a regular participant, finds these online prayer sessions to be an encouragement and a blessing. “Scheduling [prayers] at midday is a reminder of God’s presence,” he says. “That is helpful, as otherwise I can tend to focus so tightly on my work that I don’t think about God’s presence with me during long stretches of my workday. Praying for others and sharing prayer requests with others help me raise my eyes beyond my own work or situation to see a bigger picture of my local church community, the wider community and of God at work in our world.”
Participants pray for each other and the larger community, and music videos of new songs from the Voices Together hymn book are often included.
A regular Sunday morning feature has been Zoom coffee time after the livestream church service. Other special events held throughout the year have included:
- A scavenger hunt via Zoom, with participants taking pictures of their findings.
- A bike ride through the city by Bender, who delivered tags and stickers to put on laptops, to students attending online classes. This replaced the regular backpack blessing held each year.
- A butter-tart demonstration by Barry Reesor via Zoom.
- Prayer boxes for children and youth, with weekly prayers being sent by different members of the congregation. Examples included: “I pray that you feel God’s peace,” and “I pray that no matter where you are, you will trust that God is with you.”
Not all activities continued. Sunday school was cancelled last spring. In the fall, adult Sunday school picked up on Zoom, and Shine resources were sent to children to use at home.
The quilting group has not been meeting at the church since the pandemic started. This group formed in 2017, meeting weekly during the fall and winter. Participants ranged in age from eight years old to some in their 80s, including new and experienced quilters. Two quilts were donated to the New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale. Other quilts were given to a young quilter as a farewell gift, and to the child of the newcomer family.
A new event was the Silver Lake Mennonite Camp Adventure Day Camp that Hamilton Mennonite hosted during the second and fourth weeks of July.