UNITY ‑‑ Church means different things to different people, but one factor common to every congregation is a sense of belonging, of community. That means individuals have a group of friends in times of celebration, and support in times of grief. So even folks who don’t consider themselves religious can find a degree of comfort and companionship in a congregation. Unity churches continue to find ways to connect with their congregations and community throughout the prolonged pandemic.
The real reason for churches is to nurture faith and to guide people in their search for meaning and purpose. Traditions and rituals change and grow or wane, but peoples’ search for meaning has remained strong throughout human history. Therefore, we still need churches. We need care in our grieving, and we need to share our joy with others. We puzzle over the many perplexing questions of life. When you come into a congregation, you might be surprised who you find there.
The church carries on, despite forecasts of doom. The forms change, and certainly during the pandemic, forms have changed dramatically. Now our churches are using many different digital programs to stay connected with their people—Zoom, Facebook Live and other livestream services mean you can "go to church" in your living room, in your pyjamas, but you still get a sense of connectedness, still hear the news of other members and events, still know you are being prayed for. That makes a big difference to people. As a retired United Church Minister, trust me on this.
Fr. Greg Roth of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church was livestreaming services for a time but since last September the congregation has been gathering with no restrictions on size, (they have so much room) and though attendance has gone down considerably, and folks vary in their level of comfort at attending in person, only funeral services are livestreamed.
The United Church has continued to broadcast services even while meeting in person, and though attendance is down on Sunday mornings, there is a surprising number of viewers online. The ministers, Gary Johnson and Verna Kocski, also offer an online Bible study weekly, but the usual faith study group has resumed meeting in person. Choir members deeply miss their regular practises and participating in worship, and may go back to filling the choir loft, carefully, masks and all. While full vaccination is not demanded, it is hoped for. Masks are mandatory, of course.
The Anglican church, St. John’s, has been closed since before the pandemic; they had a service in December 2019 with intentions of opening again at Easter in 2020. Their Diocese is still insisting that there not be in-person gatherings for worship, but Val Middleton remains hopeful that when things settle down, there will still be a few folks wanting Anglican services. Their hall is still available for rent and is carefully sanitized between uses. They appreciate the livestreams of other congregations, and TV and radio services. “God is still at work,” Middleton says.
The Lutheran Church is continuing with lay led services, and do not have a pastor currently. They livestream their services as well and are maintaining their community.
Pastor Ron Rutley reports that the Baptist church has been having in-person services, but the format has changed. Earlier on he would prepare a shorter prayer and scripture service, family-oriented, and though they have returned to a fuller service, they continue to follow a popular children’s program including a video. The only part of the service that is livestreamed is the sermon. Like the others, they practice care but don’t feel a need to do contact tracing.
The Unity Ministerial Association still meets and is an important source of support for church leaders struggling with all these issues. It helps to be able to share their experiences with others in the same predicament. They can’t provide services or even visit in the long-term care and hospital facilities. Many of the functions that feed a minister’s soul have been taken away from them. They face disagreements among folks about whether their churches should be meeting in person or online or whether the government has the right to say what they do. It’s not easy being clergy at the best of times, and this has been much more difficult than usual.
But the church has faced many kinds of persecution and crises over the generations and is still needed, still spirit led, still carrying on. Love finds a way. People still need care. God still cares. Carry on.