The exchange in the time of COVID-19
by Chris Scott
Pastor of the exchange, Winchester, Va.
In this time of church doors being closed, we have the opportunity to live into our professed Anabaptist theology that the church was never about the building. We are the church. Like the old song, “I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.”
At our church, the exchange, in Winchester, Va., we have tried to follow our calling in specific and intentional ways. We have worked at revisioning what community might look like in our changing times. While nowhere near perfect, we are working at finding our way. Seeing our group at work has inspired me and brought hope.
I have seen Jesus in the face of others. I’ve seen Jesus at work through our group. Through Viqui and Erin leading music, as well as through well-timed texts of encouragement and suggestions that no one else sees.
I’ve seen Jesus in Britt and Kat, and their eagerness and insistence in doing tangible and physical acts of service to others. Their willingness to help others has brought light and love. They have been a blessing to those they’ve helped.
At the exchange, we work to foster connection and be of service to the outside community. On our Facebook timeline, we posted some questions asking if anyone needs help getting groceries, medicine, or other supplies. Britt and Kat, two newer exchange attenders, took it upon themselves to run errands for folks who couldn’t get the things they need otherwise. Traditionally, this has been the role of Christians— to run into situations others are avoiding, to care for the sick and the marginalized. These two women are embodying the heart of Christian virtues.
We have also developed a system of checking in with various people during the week. We connect with a wide swathe of people from both inside and outside of our community.
Each week since the “stay-at-home” order, we have made what we call Community Bags. The bags have been different each week. We have put in notes, muffins, and Easter eggs. One week we even made an old-fashioned mix-tape of songs that both encouraged and comforted. We also put note cards and stamped envelopes in the bags one week along with a copy of the church directory. Each person was to write two notes of encouragement and mail them.
One week we printed up a large copy of the exchange’s logo. We then cut it up into enough puzzle pieces for each recipient to get one. The goal was to have each person keep their piece until we can eventually gather together in person again. In the meantime, they can know that they are connected and a vital part of the overall picture.
Community Bags give us an opportunity to connect with a variety of folks, inside and outside the congregation. We have heard back from so many of the recipients about how much they appreciate and look forward to the bags. Normally we simply knock on the door, put down the bags and run, but we have been able to have conversations through glass storm doors and across lawns. Posts with the bags have gone viral on social media as well.
As many other churches have done, we have used the Zoom application for gathering. We used Facebook Live one week, but it did not allow for the interaction that is key to our DNA. Zoom is a much better fit as a platform that allows for immediate feedback and conversation. It can be messy and chaotic at times, but it has been beautiful and life-giving. We have continued our practice of weekly communion over Zoom. That has been meaningful and helps to guide our focus on hope and suffering.
We have held our worship gatherings on Zoom. Additionally, we have held game nights on the app. We even planned a community dinner over Zoom. We want to do anything that we can to help people know that they are connected and loved.
COVID-19 has changed the rhythms and practices of the exchange. We have adapted both the ways that we are community together and the ways we approach the wider Winchester community. We are living into the new reality. The exchange is working at being the church in our time and place.