This past Sunday as I was sitting in church, my wife leaned over and noted, “there are three ministers, an M.Div. and a Diaconal minister sitting in the pews and none of them are in the pulpit.” She was right.
Two years ago today, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. I remember those first days and weeks; not sure what to touch or not to touch, getting used to wearing a mask, and most of all assuming that we would all be back in church by Easter at the latest.
How unprepared we were.
This week, the Ontario government has announced that most mask mandates will end on March 21, 2022 with the remaining pandemic rules lifted by the end of April. It seems as though we are moving from a pandemic to Covid being endemic in our world.
What a long strange trip it has been.
As I have talked with friends and colleagues over the past few days and weeks, I have heard and noticed a couple of important themes.
November 1 is All Saints Day in the Christian Church. While we do not venerate saints in the same way other traditions do, we do have enough Knox and St Andrew’s churches along with other saint named churches to know that we take the concept of saints seriously.
We also have a further, more informal understanding of the communion of saints; namely those faithful Christians who have gone before and make up ‘that great cloud of witnesses’ that we read of in Hebrews 12. In the season of Covid, it is appropriate that we remember them.
As we head towards two full years of Covid-19, I have been reflecting on the communion of saints and in particular the opportunity to remember our cloud of witnesses on this coming All Saints Day. As I consider the past pandemic season, I realize that almost all of us have had the experience of being unable to faithfully respond to the death of loved ones.
Friends, by now I am sure everyone is aware that we have moved to Step 3 of reopening in the province of Ontario. In terms of Places of Worship (and other religious rites) this is what is now permitted:
Religious services, rites or ceremonies, including wedding services and funeral services (does not apply to receptions): Indoor and outdoor permitted with capacity limited to permit physical distancing of 2 metres.
Monday, December 21 is the longest night of the year. In 2020 we have had many long nights and this year, perhaps more than ever, it is important to have a Longest Night Christmas worship service at your church.
Also called Blue Christmas, a Longest Night worship service is traditionally held to acknowledge that for many people Christmas is not a happy time of the year. Typically it is held for those who have lost loved ones over the course of the year, and for those who are lonely or separated from friends and family.
In December of 2013, a week before Christmas, a major ice storm hit the Canada from Ontario to the Maritimes. This storm resulted in 27 deaths, loss of power to over a million residents and millions of dollars in damage. The strongest memory I have of that week was the anxiety over Christmas Eve services. Many churches cancelled altogether. Some, like ours, got power back just in the nick of time. Others chose to go ahead with candlelight services in coats and hats. For many of them, Christmas Eve 2013 was one of the most memorable ever experienced.
This Christmas, 2020 we face another storm, different in its scope but unique because we see it coming. We already know that this coming Christmas will be unlike any other in memory. The only question is how?
Last week I received an article from a colleague entitled The Coming Tidal Wave of Pastoral Departures by Laura Stephens-Reed. The article can be found here and I commend it to your reading: https://tinyurl.com/y66f5gea
There is much to learn in the article, but one paragraph in particular stood out:
“Prior to the pandemic, a significant number of my clergy coachees and colleagues were working under unrealistic expectations, whether those came from their congregations or from their own internal “shoulds.” And then, mid-Lent, they had to change the ways they did nearly everything – and fast. They became not just preachers but tech experts with all that entails: recording, editing, sound mixing, lighting, inviting people to and teaching them how to participate in and managing online meetings, exploring the most accessible social media platforms, and monitoring cyber security.”
As our churches have made the transition to new ways of doing worship through online platforms, I wondered how our families with children were doing. Knowing that all of our churches are working hard to keep everyone engaged in worship and the life of the congregation, I thought I would ask some parents how it was going and what they would say are the best practices they have experienced that assist their children and teens in feeling connected in worship, and what they might recommend to their worship leaders to consider as they plan for worship services that are more inclusive of all ages.
Marjorie Thompson, in Family: The Forming Center, says that “rituals are embodied ways of celebrating God’s presence in the midst of ordinary life.” Life doesn’t feel very ordinary these days, and the idea of celebrating communion in our homes instead in our church home with our church family feels just little bit strange. We wonder if we should hold off celebrating communion until we can gather in our churches once again. I wonder if these unusual days invite us to come to the table now more than ever before. We need to remember that God is with us and will not abandon us. Through the ordinary stuff of bread and wine we need to taste and see that the Lord is good.
And so we offer to you a communion service for celebration in your homes. It comes out of a request that John-Peter and I film a short, intergenerational communion service for Morningside-High Park Presbyterian Church for Easter Sunday morning. We filmed it in our home with Alex Fensham and Holly Boyne, also members at MHP, who live in an apartment in our home. So please, feel free to use it at anytime throughout our time away from our church homes.
Greetings in the Lord’s name. We trust you are keeping well and safe in these strange, uncharted days. As we think about our Holy Week and Easter services of worship, we wonder, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) We hope we can be of help with a few thoughts, especially around communion.