Since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic came into the lives of Canadians, this magazine has published many accounts of life in pandemic times. There have been reports on how Mennonite churches and organizations have adapted to health restrictions, found new ways to care for others, and even managed to have fun, despite the challenges. We’ve published letters about the vaccine and longer opinion pieces about how Christians should behave in response to this reality. There have been pictures of pastors in masks and congregants distantly seated in church sanctuaries and parking lots.
Recently Canadian Mennonite asked sociologist Randy Haluza-DeLay to interview church leaders about life two years into the pandemic. Some of his findings appear in the feature, “Who are we as the church now?” I invite you to read and reflect on the feature and its accompanying discussion questions. This could be a time for conversation in your own church circles, to consider what you have gone through together and what might lie ahead.
Beyond the Sunday morning Zoom screen, key areas of church life still need our thoughtful attention.
For example, what has happened to the ministries congregations had in their neighbourhoods, contributions to their communities that have been limited or discontinued during pandemic times? It’s been harder to build connections with our neighbours and church siblings through informal times like coffee times, sports leagues, parents’ groups and community meals.
There has been a toll on the mental health of many people in the virtual pews and at the pulpit. With no foyer check-ins, we’ve missed face-to-face opportunities for expressing care for each other: “How was your week? I’ve been thinking of you.” It’s been hard not to be together to share in the grief of funerals and the joys of other life milestones.
Church leaders identify serious challenges in our congregations’ formal venues for faith formation. We’ve adapted, but at times, our faith has been challenged. What have we learned about ourselves and our God?
More uncertainty lies ahead, as provincial and local guidelines change concerning vaccinations, masking, gathering and distancing. We’ve already experienced polarization around the risks and precautions individuals want to take; difficult conversations lie ahead for congregations as well.
What will our life together look like tomorrow and beyond? In the latest From Our Leaders column, Kathy Giesbrecht suggests that the church expand its vocabulary to include words like “experimentation” and “collaboration,” and she invites us to “dream and scheme” together. The Holy Spirit will be present there.
As this issue of CM was in production, news came of Russian military forces invading Ukraine. The reports emerging from that region are troubling, and the worldwide reaction is one of shock and concern for the safety of the Ukrainian people. For one branch of the Mennonite family, interest is especially high, given its historical connections to Ukraine. Although they now live primarily in the Americas and Europe, the people known as “Russian Mennonites,” tie their family histories to that land, and they too tell stories of suffering and displacement from decades ago.
Today, the Mennonite presence continues through the work of organizations like Mennonite Central Committee, MEDA, the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine and others. These organizations collaborate with local partners on projects that create sustainable livelihoods, provide health and educational support, and foster peacebuilding. According to Mennonite World Conference, there are approximately 500 Anabaptist Christians in the region who connect with the global church. They too are giving and receiving help.
It’s too soon to know the direction this conflict will take. But we can heed the invitations to pray for safety for all and for a peaceful outcome. And, through our trusted organizations, we can support those who help Ukrainians in need.
In the coming weeks, you will see reports in the pages of this magazine, but in the meantime, watch for updates on the Canadian Mennonite website and in our social media platforms.