The same unity of purpose at Stephens City
by Merle Christner
Pastor of Stephens City Mennonite Church, Stephens City, Va.
Stephens City Mennonite Church is one among many small, aging, congregations in Northern District. Our members are geographically scattered, but share a unity of purpose in loving our neighbors, seeking to assist those in need, and a love of music. During the pandemic, many of those dynamics have shifted.
Using Zoom has enabled several persons to attend services who have been unable to be present in person due to health or distance issues, and attendance has been more regular. We have grown closer. Thus far, we are not aware of any of our members who have contracted COVID-19 and are grateful. A small Hispanic church of another denomination who meets in our building has experienced some cases and we have tried to be supportive to them.
Zoom has also enabled us to add three couples from Western Maryland and Pennsylvania who were former inter-denominational connections of Pastor Merle and Evie Christner. So our overall attendance numbers have increased! One of those attendees shared that a caregiver who was present in their home during our service times has been touched and indicated she felt she needed to allow God back into her life. We are not always aware of who we are reaching.
Most of our community service has involved schools in some way, so that has been curtailed, and we have cancelled our summer “Peace Camp” for children. We have begun supplying some meals for a Winchester organization (CCAP) to distribute to those in need, primarily homeless persons. We are also very aware that a new subdivision continues to be built next to our church and are brainstorming ways to welcome those new neighbors.
Our love of music and singing together is our greatest loss and sadness during this time. Several members sing with other choir groups and have other musical involvements which have been put on hold. While we listen and sing in our homes, there is just not a good online substitute.
Going forward, there will no doubt be changes in our church life. We are exploring how to begin to safely meet again in person, beginning with an outdoor worship celebration in our church pavilion. We expect an expanded electronic presence in doing more meetings online and finding ways to make our worship service available to those who cannot attend in person. We also expect God to show up in more surprising ways—as we keep our focus not on what we have lost—but on following Jesus.