To say this has been a difficult year for the church as we have known it, is a huge understatement. Change was forced upon the Church. Change in the Church normally comes slowly unless an event forces change!
One day in March 2020 it was business as usual, and the next day our church buildings were closed, and visiting people in their homes and in health care facilities was prohibited.
Our buildings were closed during our busiest seasons: Lent and Easter! That’s the time of many special worship services.
Most congregations and parishes started reaching out using online worship through different platforms. In the Parish of Deer Lake, we started using the platform Zoom, something I had not even heard about before COVID-19. We could not gather for worship or for meetings, and could not physically visit each other, so as leaders in the Church we were scrambling for another way to reach people. Zoom, along with Facebook Live, Go ToMeeting, and other online platforms helped to somewhat fill the void.
In the Diocese of Western Newfoundland, our Bishop initiated weekly clergy meetings which helped us stay in contact, and stay informed. This gave us an opportunity to discuss how we were feeling and what we were doing to help us and the parishioners get through, while all the time thinking it would only be for a few months.
The Parish of Deer Lake started offering online worship twice a week, with midweek Evening Prayer on Wednesdays, and Morning Prayer on Sundays, all by Zoom.
As the rector of the parish, I originally started midweek Evening Prayer because it was the season of Lent, and then continued after Easter Sunday because I felt that it may help fill a void left from not being able to gather for worship or have pastoral visiting.
Normally during Holy Week at St. Michael and All Angels’ church in Deer Lake, there is worship every day, including an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. At the Ascension in Howley, there is worship on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
It was challenging to hold an Easter Vigil worship online and make it meaningful for people. Good Friday and Easter Sunday were also a challenge. Because there were no musicians to call on, we decided to do the music through YouTube videos, putting links in the email and Facebook posts. Unfortunately, this seemed to only work well for those people who are a little tech savvy.
As a clergy person, I feel it is easy to become too confident about the impact of online worship. Everyone who is posting worship is getting a lot of views and interactions, however that does not mean that online worship is a transformative experience for all those watching! But, I do think even a click on a link can be an indicator! It’s an indicator that people are looking for something different than, or something to complement, what we normally offer in a building on a Sunday. I would hope that this indicator would encourage leaders to discern what they may keep, change, or let go of when the pandemic is past.
Hopefully, with all the negativity and frustration of a lockdown and a world pandemic, there will come some good for ministry and the Church.
Where has all of this left us as followers of Jesus, as disciples?
It was, and still is, a time of lamenting, because even though most of our buildings are now open with limited capacity, nothing is the same. We may be feeling like the psalmist in Psalm 22 asking, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
However, as followers of Jesus, as disciples, we are people of hope, people of the good news, the good news of the Gospel. Psalm 39:7 says, “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.” We are people of hope, builders of the kingdom. At this time, the same as any time, as followers of Jesus, hopefully we continue to be rooted in prayer and the good news of the Gospel.
Online worship has been a positive experience for me with the exception of missing energy from the people in the pews. However, the energy level is increased by having others involved in the online worship.
The most difficult for me in this pandemic has been pastoral situations. At least now we can visit people, have funerals, and be there: physically present for those who need us.
A couple of months ago, we were again locked down in Deer Lake with our church buildings closed and visitations stopped. It was a reminder of how quickly things can change. This pandemic has shown us that we cannot take anything for granted. We cannot be complacent; we need to take care of one another by being diligent about safety in our buildings and outside. Jesus left us the commandment to love one another and one way we live out that commandment is by keeping each other safe, whatever that looks like now and in the future.