Our churches in this time
The 12 MWC regional representatives gather online every quarter to reflect on the struggles and joys of the Anabaptist churches in their regions. In our latest gathering, they shared the burdens and creative resilience they see in churches in response to COVID-19.
The struggles seem to be the same everywhere, although the extent to which churches are affected varies from place to place.
- The lack of personal contact and the loss of income due to the significant risk of contagion cause significant stress and misery in Anabaptist churches. Each regional representative emphasized this.
- Nine of the 10 countries which currently have the highest number of COVID-19 cases have a significant number of Anabaptists. Some of these are countries with a total population smaller than 50 million (e.g., Argentina, Colombia, Peru), resulting in a very high per capita impact.
- Moving church online has left out elderly people who are not able to use online technology, including in the Global North.
- The online world has also left out rural communities and urban people who live in deep poverty, most of whom do not have the finances or technology to access electricity and the internet. This is particularly true in Africa, where 50 percent of MWC’s members live.
- Mariano Ramírez from the Caribbean talked about the challenge of paying pastors’ salaries, and paying rent for church buildings.
- Willi Hugo from Central America and Mexico noted the loss of beloved pastors and church leaders who have died from COVID.
- Gerald Hildebrand from North America talked about how guidelines for COVID life have been so politicized that they have become divisive in society and in churches, particularly in the USA.
Every regional representative also emphasized the creativity that they see in Anabaptist churches in their region.
- Jeremiah Choi from Northeast Asia says three Hong Kong congregations decided to share resources and meet together online as one larger group for the last 7 months.
- Paul Stucky reports that an amazing variety of activities have successfully moved online in the Andean region of Latin America, with strong participation in all of them: worship, prayer meetings, Bible study, webinars, etc. This is true around the world, although shorter sermons and services seem to be a trend.
- Willi Hugo observes that both preaching and practice show a growing commitment to Anabaptist values of community, service and love for neighbour in Central America and Mexico.
- Barbara Nkala from Southern Africa says both lay people and pastors are leading daily devotions that are circulated on WhatsApp across Zimbabwe.
- Francisca Ibanda reports that worship services in family and small group settings have strengthened lay leaders and local congregations in West Africa.
- Gerald Hildebrand sees a growing understanding in North American congregations that church is not a building, but church is its people, every day of the week.
- Agus Mayanto notes a strong spirit of love as Southeast Asia congregations become communities of caring for each other and for those around them in their neighbourhoods.
- The grants from MWC’s COVID-19 inter-agency task force have enabled many churches to provide food and health supplies in their communities, and have been received and distributed with joy. Donations and applications continue.
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for gathering, and a time for not gathering, a time for embracing, and a time to refrain from embracing (3:5). Our churches are in a hard time of not gathering and not embracing. Nevertheless, as Paul says to the Romans, we are always called to “love one another with mutual affection, …, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (12:10-12).
Mariano Ramírez gave a summary observation. “Churches are called to be prudent in following all of the COVID-19 rules, but fearless in being a public witness to God’s love.”
Let us give thanks for all this creativity, and pray for those who are breaking under the challenges. Amen.
—Mennonite World Conference release by Arli Klassen, regional representatives coordinator