The scattering effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be profound across Canada, regardless of the differing levels of gathering restrictions in each jurisdiction.
Its successive waves have blocked the natural grazing routines of the Christian flock, even while our shepherds have been doing all they can to keep sheep fed and sheltered.
As the vast majority of evangelical churches complied with the public health restrictions, within the fold deep differences emerged about masking, vaccines and lockdowns.
Pastors and boards have been buffeted by the strong opinions threatening to kindle and inflame dissention, and yet they have also continued working to feed the flock virtually and find ways to minister to pandemic related anxiety, depression and grief.
As our usual habits of socialization were disrupted, some of the civility and moderation that normally characterize our face-to-face meetings eroded. During our restriction to technologically mediated communication bubbles with likeminded peers, nuance became something of a casualty.
Public health restrictions have impacted generations differently. The foundations of teenage life – security, significance and socialization – bottomed out. Twenty-somethings, just starting to take off, had their plans and aspirations eclipsed overnight, sending some into a tailspin.
Embodied presence was lost, community suffered, and we were scattered. The Apostle Paul also felt this kind of pain when hindered from seeing the flock "face to face" (1 Thessalonians 2:17)
Can churches be a beacon of light, grace and fellowship?
The deep human and spiritual need of fellowship longs for fulfilment. Particularly in times of danger and crisis, when journeying through a long and dark valley, we rely on others and crave community.
All of us are in different ways walking through states of grief as Covid has suspended or made ambiguous the typical patterns of attending to loss.
We need resolution which Covid only mocks. The key is to learn to grieve well and in healthy ways.
The question is how? Not all can or will be vaccinated. Can churches be a beacon of light, grace and fellowship if we allow the shrapnel of how we manage this virus to dominate? If we are not attentive to the experiences, struggles and joys of others – where we laugh and weep together – what then is fellowship?
Paul reminded the Ephesians that in Christ we have been brought together. Jesus has now and in the future ultimately destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. We are to be peacemakers. In Him we have become citizens, members of one household, joined together into a dwelling place for God by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:11–22).
We are now clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12–14). And as a result the church is a place that transcends race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and politics. Our task is to gather as citizens of a different kingdom. As ones designed for fellowship, our focus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
And we gather in thankfulness. There is no better time than now to be thanking pastors and staff for reaching us in our homes to feed us practically and spiritually going on close to two years now.
In the midst of turmoil and in a fractured and divisive society, what will be our witness?
We also gather to grieve and learn to grieve well as part of the essence of what fellowship is. For some it’s in stages of shock, anger, bargaining or resolve. But the key to walk these pathways well in fellowship is always grace, mercy and humility.
We gather to worship and sing praises to the One in whose name we gather and who holds the ultimate victory. We gather to pray.
In the midst of turmoil and in a fractured and divisive society, what will be our witness? Will we extend care and respect to pastors, affirming that they have weathered uncertainty and disagreements, critique and judgment while seeking to be pastoral and care for those in need of comfort and guidance, care and support?
Will we listen to each other with dignity, civility and respect – hearing stories of love, compassion, mercy and grace?
Will we remember our seniors and help our youth and young adults to rebuild – empowering them and helping them realize opportunities to serve and be served?
It may not be easy, but God does meet us in the dark valley leading us all home – that place where fellowship is as deep as it was for Christ in Gethsemane and as sweet as it was after He rose from death to greet us with an invitation to sit and enjoy being seen face-to-face together once more (John 21).
What will be our witness?
Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work and support us at www.TheEFC.ca/Donate or toll-free 1-866-302-3362
Author: Bruce J. Clemenger