Mission: Kingsley and COVID - A Little Glimpse into Life at St Anselm's
by The Revd Gillian Rookyard | Rector, Parish of Kingsley North-Woodvale
It's Sunday morning. He dresses in his Sunday best and, using his long white cane, steadily makes his way next door to his neighbours. They sit down in front of the computer to participate in our streamed worship.
These are unprecedented times, but even at 98 years of age, our brother in Christ is a vibrant and authentic example of faithful Christian discipleship. Not even a pandemic will keep him from gathering for worship with his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Anticipating that church closures were imminent, we had planned for Sunday 22 March to be a kind of dress rehearsal for using Facebook live, but as it turned out became the first of 11 weeks of livestreaming to our congregation, and unexpectedly – even beyond!
As I walked into church on that morning I said to my colleague – ‘today can only go better than it did in my dreams!’ All night I had tossed and turned, dreaming about every possible technical mishap and disaster. With just an iPhone perched on a flower stand, it did go better than all of that! While it wasn’t ‘perfect’ (whatever that is) we were thrilled to receive affirming support and encouragement for our efforts, and were satisfied that we had honoured our commitment to continue offering an opportunity for our people to gather, albeit virtually, for worship. In the weeks that followed we refined our setup, tweaked our sound, and got better at framing the liturgy for the online environment. Thanks to a technology grant from the Diocese, we purchased new equipment which enabled us to not only enhance our online offering during this time, but also continue livestreaming into the future.
But Sunday mornings were only one part of a much bigger picture.
The fundamental questions remained – What does it mean to be a parish when our people can’t meet? What does it mean to be the Body of Christ when the people of God can’t gather? What does it mean to be a place of hope and welcome to the wider community when the sign at the front of the church says – CLOSED?
As we grappled deeply with these questions, our people stood up. And as they did, they showed us just what it means to be all these things: They started praying the Offices with one another online, they formed phone networks, they gathered in groups on Zoom for morning tea and to participate in study groups, they arranged a contactless drive-by to deliver their mission giving donations for emergency relief, they distributed weekly material for families to work through with their children, and they shared themselves with one another by opening their hearts, homes, skills and stories in remarkable, beautiful, and humbling ways.
Many have expressed that they have felt more spiritually fed during this time than they have in a long time. Others are grateful for the rest. Some have found it extremely difficult, and everyone is just so grateful to be back!
In our preparations for re-gathering, we have been intentional about incorporating that which we have learned during this time into new ways of being the Body of Christ in our little patch. We have seen in the imposed restrictions an opportunity for growth and for exploring new ways of gathering and have given ourselves permission to be open to new possibilities. And we look forward to where God will lead us.
The Revd Max Pengelley, at 98 years old, continues to inspire us all! It is a blessing and privilege to worship and serve beside him, and to share so deeply in his journey of faithful discipleship. God bless him.