Toronto-area leaders reflect on virtual worship

September 22, 2021 | News | Volume 25 Issue 20
Christen Kong | Special to Canadian Mennonite
Toronto, Ont.
Churches across Canada are sharing online services. Here Moses Falco leads worship at Sterling Mennonite in Winnipeg. (Screenshot from MC Canada website)

“It is important to let go of perfectionism and the desire to get things right. We will make mistakes. People forget to go on mute, there is background noise, videos don’t work. Despite all this, it is still worship,” says Peter Haresnape, a pastor at Toronto United Mennonite Church. Virtual worship during this past year has inspired church leaders to refine and reimagine the meaning of worship.

What is essential to worship? Many church leaders ask this question when developing virtual worship services each Sunday. “What goes into creating a worshipful experience? What does giving with gratitude look like?,” asks Haresnape. He reflects: “Now, it is a time to consider a variety of elements and how they contribute to worshipping God for the life that we live.”

Glyn Jones, pastor at Rouge Valley Mennonite Church near Markham and Community Mennonite Church of Stouffville, comments, “It’s not the church’s job to entertain. We need to focus on what we do and why we need to be together as a church.”

Leah Harder, enrichment coordinator at Community Mennonite Church of Stouffville, says that worship is a collaborative process and she expresses her gratitude for Mennonite Church Canada’s weekly public posts of church services. These served as a shared resource for spiritual teaching when churches were learning how to create their own content.

Jones has witnessed smaller churches begin to partner with other congregations to support one another in carrying each other’s loads. As a pastor of two churches, he says, “There are some advantages in sharing pastors and services. You have one preparation time for two churches.”

Zoom is a complex platform with challenges in sharing pictures, powerpoints and other Zoom features, says Jones. “It becomes complicated for one person to lead worship or a sermon.”

Virtual worship also reveals roles within a worship service that would otherwise not be seen. “The background preparation work is only noticed when it doesn’t work,” says Haresnape. “There is a lot more recognition of those roles.”

Linda Wall, a member of Rouge Valley Mennonite Church, explains that “virtual worship has reinforced our understanding that church is a community of people, a community of believers that don’t have to meet in a building to be church.” The church has even encouraged worship leaders to invite congregational members to sing where they are, instead of attending as if it were a musical performance.

Haresnape highlights that “music is something we create together even if we don’t hear each other. It is meaningful to sing along.”

Togetherness is foundational to worship. “We should help people participate,” emphasizes Wall. She describes the barriers faced by individuals in care homes, who may be ill and unable to participate in worship services in person. They can now join in new, digital, ways.

Jones also comments about a congregational member who is sick and at home: “He usually attends church, but there was one time where he had been in the hospital for a week. He was provided a computer on Sunday and was able to share.” He continues, “In pre-COVID times there was no way someone who was ill was going to show up in church. Having them join virtually was powerful both for him and for us.”

Worship is inclusive, as reflected by Jesus’ compassion to meet and engage all people towards spiritual togetherness despite their location and circumstance.

“We have opportunities through technology that help us to innovate, be creative and think beyond our box,” says Jones. He muses, “On Zoom, you see people’s faces instead of the backs of people’s heads. When we return back to in-person worship, will churches choose different seating patterns? How do we want to rethink space? How will we interact with one another?”

Regarding worship, Wall concludes, “We need to provide both the familiar and the new—the familiar to make people feel comfortable and the new to keep people growing spiritually.”

Virtual worship has made congregations reimagine the possibilities for how church is conceptualized to be inclusive and collaborative, and how worship is meaningful to all.

Churches across Canada are sharing online services. Here Moses Falco leads worship at Sterling Mennonite in Winnipeg. (Screenshot from MC Canada website)

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