For years I have preached to many a congregation that “the church” is about more than buildings. That no matter how beautiful the building, or grand the music, or even how large the annual budget … our calling is to be so much more.
And (I must admit) there have been times when I wondered if our members really understood that. This usually followed a conversation with a member or a council/vestry meeting, when someone agreed by saying “yes – but what about …” I shall leave my reflection on the “yes-but” folks for another time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced upon us the opportunity to actually live out that truth. With federal and provincial governments closing all but essential services, with our diocese closing all church buildings and offices, and our members all engaged in self-isolation and proper social distancing … we are facing a ministry challenge unlike anything we have ever experienced in our lifetime. Sure there have been health scares and closures before — but nothing like the scope and scale in which we currently live.
I am blessed to be rector of two parishes St. Alban’s (Beamsville) and St. John’s (Winona). And when pandemic protocols were implemented, neither place “stopped” being church. As I contacted our members (through phone calls, texts, and emails) I was thrilled to hear that they had already been connecting with other members of the church family through these same methods. Some offering prayer, some just checking in, some asking if they were okay and had all the supplies and groceries needed. We are still the church (with or without the building).
As I talk with colleagues and friends across our diocese and across the country, I am hearing similar stories: connecting with one another, worshipping together (usually as part of Bishop Susan’s Sunday prayer service), and helping those in need (including grocery drops to those who are unable, or afraid, to venture out). We are still the church (with or without the building).
These stories, and much much more, tell me that yes — we get it! That we know we are more than our property and our possessions. We have taken the opportunity presented to us by the COVID-19 pandemic and shown that we know our true purpose. My prayer for us all is that when this crisis is behind us (which it will be), that we remember how we lived and loved — and use that as a compass for moving forward.
God bless you … continue to care for each other … and stay safe.
The Reverend Rob Towler