The pews were empty. But the Word was preached, hymns sung, prayers said. In a scene that played out around kitchen tables and in living rooms across North America, Mennonites didn’t let the coronavirus stop them from worshiping together.
It was a different kind of togetherness. March 15 was the Sunday of the livestream. For some congregations, digital technology made it possible to stay connected at a distance.
On the first Sunday after the widespread cancellation of public meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mennonites were among those who proved the truth of Jesus’ words in Matt. 18:20: “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Never before had so many congregations made their worship services digital-only. Never before had so many people watched by twos and threes.
Social distancing — caring for one’s neighbors by staying away from them — may have separated God’s people physically. But spiritually, the bonds of fellowship could not be broken.
A prayer for all of us
Hesston (Kan.) Mennonite Church was among the congregations that livestreamed a worship service led by pastors and musicians in an empty sanctuary.
Pastor Clayton Gladish reminded the congregation that the most important things will continue.
“Love is not canceled. Prayer is not canceled. Kindness has not been canceled,” he said. “Worship, especially as our way of life, has not been canceled. Hope has not been canceled.”
Gladish prayed for health-care professionals, for those who are sick or vulnerable, for those who have no financial margin and those who don’t have a safe home to be quarantined in.
“We come to you in our time of need,” he prayed. “But is there any time we are not in need of you? In these times of uncertainty, when we may be inclined to fear, we want to turn to you instead. You have not ordained this disease. . . . As some choose fear, may we as God’s people choose love. May we stock up on grace and compassion so that we may be quick to share it.
“Help us to find new and creative ways to connect with one another. Help us to be your people in this changing world and to find hope and joy in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.”
This is a prayer for all of us at a time when we feel unsure and unsettled, and normal life is put on hold.
How will we live in these days of disruption, of economic hardship, of concern for the health of loved ones?
We will continue to be a community of faith, aiding those in need, staying in touch with the isolated, making the most of extra time with family while busy schedules pause.
Perhaps we will gain a clearer sense of our priorities: Deprived of cherished activities, we may learn what is truly important and what’s a distraction.
We may grow in gratitude and appreciate even more the things that give us joy — like worshiping face to face — when we are able to experience them again.
Until then, we will remain together in spirit, and grateful for digital technology, for as long as it is necessary to keep our distance.