Life in exile at Lindale Mennonite Church
by Owen Burkholder
Interim Pastor of Lindale Mennonite Church, Linville, Va.
There is a commercial for a life insurance company that begins by showing some idyllic scene where everything is going well; and then something surprising and unexpected changes the whole scenario. Their tagline is “Life comes at you fast.” Indeed, we could use that tagline for 2020!
Church leadership and the congregation were preparing to have Pastor Deb Horst take a three month sabbatical beginning in April. She had some health challenges, therefore the elders moved her sabbatical up to March 1. When we entered the time of closure for the pandemic, we were short our only full-time staff person. Many intriguing things occurred in the ensuing weeks.
We had just scheduled a baptismal exploration group that included five young people. Instead of getting to hand out the study materials, we mailed them and began meeting by Zoom. And so began a first-ever virtual baptism preparation class in the history of Lindale church. The baptism itself was scheduled for mid-June, but that has been postponed until we can do it in a gathered setting.
We did do a virtual child dedication service where two families made their commitments and then led in a special song, with persons from multiple locations joining in.
All of these “off-site” experiences were made possible by the gracious contributions of some tech-savvy people. Some of us older people did the best we could, but are so grateful for the skills of others.
The most challenging thing about congregational life during this time has been dealing with death. We’ve had several people experience the loss of loved ones who have not been able to participate in the hugging and crying together that we use to share our grief.
The most traumatic event for Lindale was the sudden death of Steve Leaman. His wife Doris was gracious in inviting their Sunday school class to join at the graveside service while remaining in their cars. When the time comes, we will want to honor those who passed from us with the warmth of touch and community worship.
We have done all of our worship experiences by video and will continue to do so until July 6. These are posted on lindale.org/sermons. Council of Ministries has created a task force to explore, with careful consideration, the timing and options for returning to in-person worship gatherings.
Vacation Bible School has been a huge activity at Lindale. We planned four video sessions for the four Sundays of July and have distributed packets to every child so families can follow along with activities related to the lessons.
The Lindale Child Care Program has been carefully working for some weeks now providing care for the children of essential workers. We are learning from them as we anticipate gathering again.
We have been grateful for the consultation with Northern District leaders as we navigate through this time. We are also grateful to report that financial contributions have remained strong.
The elders have participated with the pastoral staff in calling all of the households in our directory to see how folks are doing. Many report being cared for by Sunday school classes and other small group connections. Many classes and groups, including the youth groups, have been meeting virtually. Pastor Deb is recording a weekly devotional for the MYF.
The spirit of cooperation and participation during this time has been remarkable. Thanks be to God!