More than a month into physical distancing in Canada, and the church seems to be flourishing. Does it seem that way to you?
Having been forced to disrupt our usual worship traditions, many congregations have energetically jumped into trying new ways of being the church together. Mennonite Church Canada has been at the forefront to support this trend, promoting one service in a different province each week.
Churches that are newly conducting online Sunday worship services have seen high turnouts. People who have not attended in a while are joining. People who live far away are joining. People without internet access are also able to participate if the church uses a platform that allows a telephone dial-in connection. With many online options and no need to drive, some people are church-hopping to multiple services and sermons each week.
Many of us miss congregational singing, which is difficult with current technology, but people are offering musical gifts in other ways. Individual households are recording music to share with their congregations. Some people are mixing separate voices into virtual choirs to share hymns on YouTube.
The burgeoning interest in corporate worship is, of course, directly related to the isolation and boredom that people are feeling at home. A worship service offers a chance to connect with others. Our human desire to be part of a community is a strong tie that continues to bind the church together.
In the well-known hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds,” by John Fawcett, Verse 3 says: “We share each other’s woes, each other’s burdens bear / and often for each other flows a sympathizing tear.” While many of us are excited to see each other’s faces in an online service, waving at one another on-screen or writing comments in the chat boxes, and while we are enjoying the new musical contributions, how are we doing at making sure the other ties that bind us don’t fray?
Are churches putting in place new supports to reach out to people in the congregation who may be struggling with mental health? How are we connecting with people who don’t have access to the internet?
For many households, financial losses are steep and mounting. We have a two-fold loss with the closure of camps, schools, choirs and other Mennonite agencies. These institutions cannot generate revenue without the programs they normally run, and society as a whole loses out when no one can participate in the vital programs they normally offer. Are churches talking about mutual aid funds to offer financial support to people who need it?
In places where there are COVID-19 cases, the rationale for self-isolation is obvious, but it feels less pressing for people who live in areas where there are no cases. There is a growing restlessness from some sectors that the economic losses are greater than the risk of contagion. As time passes and economic pain grows, are we willing to continue bearing each other’s burdens?
Bryan Moyer Suderman is one of the artists who generously shares music online. He wrote on his website that the Facebook live singalongs he offers three times a week are “a way of expressing that, by doing this extraordinary thing of staying home, we are on an important mission together. While this is hard, it is a good thing to do. It is a way that we are actively showing love and care for our neighbours and others.”
The online worship services are great. Let us ensure that we bring as much energy to the deeper connections that will also be needed in the community in the coming weeks.
How are you helping?
Canadian Mennonite wants to hear from you. Do you have any examples of “COVID kindnesses” to share with readers? Some people have been sewing masks and hospital gowns; others have been buying and delivering groceries for vulnerable seniors or dropping off meals for health-care workers. MennoMedia has made its Shine Sunday school curriculum available for free to people trying to do Christian education activities at home. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is offering free online resources “for living and worshipping through extraordinary times.” We’d like to hear about what you are doing to support your community through this pandemic. Photos are great too. Stories don’t have to be long. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “COVID Kindness” or mail them to: Canadian Mennonite, 490 Dutton Drive, Unit C5, Waterloo, ON N2L 6H7.