The church ‘did not close’
by Rona Hemminger
Member of Waynesboro Mennonite Church, Waynesboro, Va.
Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home; …and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. – John 16:32
It all started with an elbow bump— not my type of hugging and a difficult thing for our older Waynesboro Mennonite Church congregation to grasp while inside a church building—a place where many people long for that physical touch! But, we soon learned there are new ways of showing that caring affection, which is desperately needed between people.
It soon became abundantly clear during this time that our church did not close. It simply scattered as we found new ways into each other’s lives. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4. And just because our doors were locked didn’t mean the church was unoccupied. A local mother cat found her way inside our building to give birth to her kittens. Her family enjoyed sheltering-in-place while our congregants were busy finding new ways to be there for each other and spread the gospel.
Yes, we understood and followed the directives of staying home, social distancing, and wearing masks. We missed each other, though, so it was time to step up our game to make personal contacts. Therefore, we had visits in our driveways through car windows, sent cards, and made phone calls like never before. It was time to keep tabs on one another. To learn who needed help and who could do the helping, our pastor made sure to keep personal communications with everyone and our deacons stepped up to implement a special kind of interaction by constantly checking in on the people on their care list, which included everyone in the congregation.
We were fortunate to have technical support to get Zoom up and running from the very first Sunday the churches were asked to stop congregating. This was such a blessing as many other churches didn’t have the knowledge and capabilities to make this happen. Our Zoom services were amazing!
Neither age or distance kept us apart. Even our oldest members learned how to navigate the internet to keep connected, and for those without computer access, a phone link was available to join the service. We had attendees from all over the world and special music was provided each week. When the service was over, no one was in a hurry to leave, so we found a Zoom chat time was a fun way to keep up with one another about our daily lives. Some weeks, this informal conversation went on for quite a while as we enjoyed connecting with one another—no matter the method.
Of course, deaths and illnesses (besides COVID-19) didn’t stop just because everything else did. Our fellowship lost a long-time member and the janitor to our building during this time. Caring hearts went out of their way to show love and support with a Zoom service for our members to offer condolences. It might not have been the usual setting, but the family and church community were cared for.
Looking to the future, a ReOpening Committee (ROC) was created to make safe plans for reopening and maintaining our online service so that those who cannot return can continue to be cared for.
We do know that God is in all things and that we can learn from everything. We might not like the way things are in this world right now, but we know how much we need each other, our church family.
We learned that where there is a will, there is a way. We learned that mature people can learn new ways of doing things as all persons have things to teach others. We learned that fear and isolation can be traumatic but that a maintained connection can make the difference. And if we combine everything we have learned from this pandemic, we will be a stronger, more effective community of believers. Let our lessons be well learned.
A version of 3 John 13-14 by Clair Good, Pastor of Waynesboro Mennonite Church— “I have so much more I could say to you, but I do not want to do so via the internet on Zoom. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face, though we be socially distanced. Peace to you. We send you our greetings. Greet the friends there by name.”