With the spread of the COVID-19 virus prompting provincial health authorities to recommend social distancing, including public gatherings not to exceed 250 people, Fraser Valley Mennonite churches scrambled to react appropriately for the third Sunday of Lent on March 15.
Mennonite Church British Columbia’s chair, Gerry Grunau, sent a letter on March 13 to all member congregations, acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining Christian fellowship in a time of uncertainty, while understanding the need to limit group gatherings.
“MC B.C. believes that participating and leading in our local communities means standing in solidarity with the people working hard to limit the seriousness of this virus,” wrote Grunau. “From a public-health perspective, cancelling our gatherings for a short time increases the health-care system’s ability to deal with any outbreaks by slowing down transmission.”
Eben-Ezer Mennonite of Abbotsford remained open for worship on March 15, as did Point Grey Mennonite Fellowship, a small congregation in Vancouver.
Among those who suspended services were Crossroads Community and Eden Mennonite in Chilliwack, Yarrow United, Level Ground and Emmanuel Mennonite churches in Abbotsford, Langley Mennonite and Bethel Mennonite in Langley, Peace Mennonite in Richmond, Living Hope Fellowship in Surrey, and Sherbrooke Mennonite in Vancouver.
Some congregations took creative steps to keep fellowship on Sunday morning even if their doors were closed. Vancouver’s Peace Church on 52nd encouraged its members to gather in small groups in homes. A posted link on the church website gave worship guidelines for “Love in the time of the coronavirus,” including prayers, songs and readings.
Cedar Valley Mennonite in Mission closed its doors on the morning of March 15 but live streamed music and a message so members could participate remotely.
Chinatown Peace Church in Vancouver also held a live watch party for worship with the message, “The cross and COVID-19.”
In a statement to Canadian Mennonite, Garry Janzen, MC B.C.’s executive minister, said, “I am very thankful that our congregations and their leadership are taking seriously the directions from our B.C. health minister, premier and provincial health officer. We have been finding ways to abide by the directives of self-isolation for those who have travelled from outside the country and social distancing for everyone else.
“In our age of technology, we are creatively finding ways of meaningful connection electronically, and we are very thankful for these resources. We will need to pay close attention to care for those who are lonely and don’t have access to new technology. We will probably have to just pick up the phone a little more often and call people.”
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Love in the time of COVID-19
Heading home early
The church has left the building
Mennonite organizations cancelling events, making adjustments in response to COVID-19
MC Canada offers pandemic preparedness web resources for congregations