Later this month, the shutdown in Newfoundland will be a year old. Many of the extreme restrictions of the early days have long since been relaxed, and we are adapting to a kind of ‘interim normal,’ but the effects of the global health crisis are still being felt. Masks and physical distancing are still required most places we go. Churches require pre-registration in order to worship. Clergy are balancing care for the gathered community who are comfortable or able to worship in person with care for the scattered community who still remain safe in their homes. Sunday worship comes in three kinds: in-person, online, and hybrid combinations of the two. As the season of Lent approached, many agonized about how to provide for the spiritual needs of those who crave the discipline and devotion of the season in ways that are safe and don’t overtax the added volunteers needed to clean and organize for midweek services over and above weekend fare.
But there is a great opportunity for us in these strange days. Clergy work to provide Lenten programs that can easily pivot to an entirely online format, should the need for further shutdown arise. Parishioners have the opportunity to pick and choose from multiple churches’ offerings, since many of them don’t involve having to leave their homes! In all of this, particularly in Lent, we are being encouraged to explore the ways that our faith as Christians intersects between our life in the church building, in our homes, and in the wider community.
The Mission of the Transfiguration’s ‘Lent in a Bag’ project is one way people have been able to do that this year. A project of four parishes in St. John’s and Mount Pearl (the Ascension, the Good Shepherd, St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s), Lent in a Bag provides families and individuals with a collection of crafts, activities, and devotions they can take part in at home. These resources are supplemented by online offerings from the clergy of the four parishes, but the expectation is that what we do as a community supports our individual life of faith, not the other way around.
You don’t have to belong to one of the Transfiguration parishes or to take part in Lent in a Bag to experience this. All through the pandemic, people have been discovering that their faith is something that they can practice outside of Sunday services. In the times that we were most isolated, we have discovered this because we’ve had to live our faith outside of the Sunday morning gathering. Our children learn and grow in their faith when it is lived out at home, and not just on Sunday mornings.
When going to church is more difficult, we have to focus on being the Church. Being the Church in the safety of our own bubble is an important step towards being the Church in the wider world—a world that desperately needs the promises of peace, love, and reconciliation that are at the heart of the Gospel. The pandemic has given the Church in the Bubble more than just a crisis to adjust to, but an opportunity to rise to, and a chance to grow and thrive, even in the midst of challenges.