These are unprecedented times. And how is the church to respond?
I don’t know where you were when the seriousness of this pandemic became real to you, but for me, it happened when I was two ferry-rides up the coast of BC, staying with dear friends, and the facts about how dangerous and widespread this is suddenly hit the media like a tidal wave. I was several days into a three-week trip across Western Canada to visit pastors and leaders and to attend classis meetings. I had been monitoring the news closely because COVID-19 was a moderate concern, but somewhere 2 or 3 days into my trip there was a turning point when it moved from moderate concern to real and immediate danger.
It all seemed to happen at once. The regular BC Classis meeting got cancelled with just two days’ notice, in favour of an online video format. BC’s government was about to declare a state of emergency and there were rumours that travelers from outside Canada would not be allowed back in. All the 1:1 meetings that I had carefully scheduled with leaders in BC and Alberta were going up in smoke. I had started cancelling my flights and hotels for the rest of the trip, and was trying to find an earlier flight home (the airline websites were in chaos). There was talk of the ferries shutting down. Citizens were being told to self-isolate. Facebook was blowing up with reports of people panic-buying toilet paper.
But in the midst of all this getting really real, something beautiful happened. I noticed a little voicemail message icon flashing on my cell phone. The message was from my visitation elder at Ebenezer Reformed Church in Stoney Creek. To be clear, my attendance at this church is on the lower end because I’m traveling so much. But Mark was calling to check in on me and see how I was doing, to let me know that he (or one of the other elders or deacons) could pick up groceries or prescriptions for me if I was self-isolating, and that if I needed to talk or pray, I could call him. Clearly this was a call that all the elders were making to congregation members. In a moment of global uncertainty, when I was feeling a bit alone as a single traveler, this simple act almost moved me to tears.
I don’t know about you, but I often find myself tearing up at simple acts of kindness and compassion. Especially when they bridge division and fear. Maybe this is because deep kindness is one of the ways I experience God most powerfully through other human beings. A phone call, a card, dropping off groceries, checking in on one another. People reaching out to one another in love. Especially in the face of so many unknowns. This is beautiful.
In the coming days, our churches will be stretched and challenged to be the church in new ways. We will be called to love one another across quarantines and through phone calls or on social media. We will be challenged to find new ways to worship, new ways to build community, new ways to “gather” and pray together, new ways to care for one another. We will be called to find new ways to reach out in love.
When I ask myself what this means for the place of church in society (how is a church to respond in such unprecedented times?), the only answer I can find is that we will have the same place and function we have always had. It’ll just look different. The mission statement of the Reformed Church in America says that we are “a fellowship of congregations called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the very presence of Jesus Christ in the world. Our shared task is to equip congregations for ministry—a thousand churches in a million ways doing one thing—following Christ in mission, in a lost and broken world so loved by God.”
Our call during these strange days is still to be the very presence of Christ. Calmly, creatively, in new and large ways, and in small ways too. In simple acts of kindness that reach out across fear to show the love of God however we can. This pandemic will clearly impact the way we do mission. There's no doubt about that. But it will not change the reason we do it. We are following Christ in mission to share the love of God with the world.
May God give you the strength, the ingenuity, and the support you need for this time. If you require help or resources from the regional level, or if you just need to talk, please don’t hesitate to call, text or email: 289-925-4444, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Regional Synod website and Facebook Page are also being updated regularly with COVID-19 supports and resources.
Be at peace. Be well. Keep loving.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Regional synod of canada
The Regional Synod of Canada is one of eight regional synods of the Reformed Church in America.