As we have been walking through the pandemic, we have seen a seismic shift in “the Church”. Those beloved century plus buildings have been empty, some are still empty, as the congregation navigates the complexities of capacity limits, vaccination status, COVID compliance and all sorts of other things we never imagined we’d need to include in our Worship supplies budget; such as tongs for distributing Eucharist, disposable masks and hand sanitizer by the litre.
And yet, here we are.
When the Pandemic struck and our Worshipping Communities had to shutter the doors, we all thought it would be for a few weeks, maybe a month or two. And here we are 20 months in and counting. It would be easy to dive head first, back under the bedclothes and lament all we have lost. And yes, we have lost a great deal.
We have lost coffee hours, or the “eighth sacrament,” on Sunday morning. We have lost sharing the peace physically. We have lost the common cup. We have lost the hugs and clouds of folks gathering for chatter and a catch-up. We have lost post-liturgy lunches at the senior’s centre. We have lost the ability to gather as we once did. And frankly, that sucks.
However, not all is lost. In some ways, there are many things we have found.
I heard a parishioner saying, laughingly the other day that, she’s not looking forward to being back in church, unless there is some way we can meet in the round, because she’s enjoyed looking at people’s faces as we gather on Zoom, rather than seeing the back of the head of the person in front of her at in-person Worship. She makes a good point.
When the pandemic struck we were six months into our Ecumenical Shared Ministry in Fernie. It has been a long road and we have taken the time that was needed to properly navigate what would work best for us. Each congregation changed their Worship time, Christ Church moved to 9:00 am and Knox United moved to 11:00 am. Each Sunday I led worship in two buildings, in two denominations, and the average in-person attendance, at each church was 18.
We had to pivot quickly to online Worship. We had our first online Zoom service on Palm (Cedar) Sunday. I led them from my home. It was, to be kind, weird. A questionnaire was hastily sent around and it was decided that we would have Zoom worship together for Easter Day, and worship at 10:00 am. And so, a new tradition was born.
On our first Sunday of online Worship (Transfiguration) we had 26 join us. On Easter Sunday we had 42 join us. Friends started asking for the service link. Parishioners started sharing the link with their friends and family. We were averaging 40 people joining us. People joining who had moved away from Fernie but were now able to re-connect. People joined us from several provinces and a few states. We even had the mother of a parishioner joining us from England.
Slowly but surely, we were becoming a community, in person and online. I was astonished, delighted and a bit bewildered. Yet here we were. We managed through this time, listening to the health authorities and making difficult decisions such as, do we open for Christmas 2020; we decided not to. Do we open for Easter 2021; we did not. And yet, our online attendance was magnificent. Friends told friends, family invited family and we had fabulous Worship.
If someone had told me that we would form a global worshipping community two years ago, I’d have smiled politely but inwardly rolled my eyes. And yet, here we are, nearly two years in and our online community is as faithful as our in person community. Currently, our online numbers exceed those attending in person. And I anticipate it will wax and wane as the weather changes.
But what I do know is that each of us who joins together for Worship, be it in person, or from the comfort of home, is part of a Community. In fact, I would say, we are part of a family: God’s family. And that’s the best kind of family there is.