Unconventional outreach through Holy Week

The year 2020 will long be remembered by the COVID-19 pandemic. With public gatherings put on hold, typical Sunday services have been replaced with online livestreams, while morning/evening prayer gatherings have become pre-recorded YouTube videos. Rostered and lay leaders across the ELCIC explore creative and unconventional ways to bring about community outreach while honouring the many traditions surrounding Holy Week and Easter.

In Alberta, Rev. Heidi Wachowiak and members of the congregation of St. Paul’s, Ellerslie found a way to honour the traditional Stations of the Cross, while maintaining safe and proper physical distancing requirements.

“They put together a traditional Way of the Cross, but just held it outside in a ‘drive-thru’ manner,” says Synod of Alberta and the Territories Bishop Larry Kochendorfer. “There were nine stations and each piece had some kind of display representing what it was. There was always a scripture passage, some had audio, while there were questions for reflection and suggested prayers. So, you would just pull up to each station, stay as long as you wanted and have conversation in your vehicle.”

Participating with his wife Cathy, Bishop Kochendorfer points out that he was amongst a number of vehicles. Running for roughly six hours on Good Friday, St. Paul’s Evangelical welcomed nearly as many community locals to its display as it did congregation members.

“It was very well done and an accessible piece for people on Good Friday,” Bishop Kochendorfer reflects. “Everyone was invited, and we saw many participating from the neighbourhood; it was very accessible for everyone to take in. I think what really moved me was that this was a way to make it possible to gather in a really meaningful, reflective way. I was really amazed by the amount of work that went into preparing each of the Stations of the Cross.”

In Nova Scotia, the congregation of St. John’s, Mahone Bay teamed up with the local Anglican and United parishes to continue making a joyful noise even in times of social isolation. Members of St. John’s were invited weekly to the church parking lot as the three congregations began a tradition of bell-ringing in succession for seven minutes every Sunday.

“After the first week, we saw people bringing cowbells, while others hit their car horns as a part of the celebration,” says Rev. Adam Snook. “Because people weren’t able to hear their favourite Easter hymns this past Sunday, we played the organ through our speaker system before and after the ringing of the bells for all gathered to hear. It’s neat to see everyone checking in with each other, waving through car windows, smiling as they drove away.”

Although originally planning to just distribute an online bulletin and material for his congregation to read in lieu of Sunday worship, Rev. Snook is pleased that the decision was made to begin livestreaming the weekly services.

“I had a member who is in her late-eighties call me last week to let me know that she is buying an iPad,” Snook says. “She had no idea how to access the internet, but wanted to watch church and stay connected. It’s incredible because people who wouldn’t have normally been in church on Easter morning were tuning in. We have one nurse in the congregation and she said that the nurses were passing around the church service on an iPad in the break room. This situation has really invited us to think about how we can meet a need that we didn’t even know existed before.”

In the online realm, the ELCIC Young Adults Facebook page put together three dynamic and captivating liturgical videos, retelling the stories of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Kristina and Hanne Kuhnert – along with some assistance from parents Rev. Dr. Peter Kuhnert and Rev. Karen Kuhnert – were able to actively engage the ‘at-home’ viewing audience that would normally be taking in worship from a church pew.

“This has been a great Easter for those that are part of the church but cannot participate at traditional service times,” Kristina Kuhnert says. “I have heard from many young adults and have experienced myself, that through internet church they are able to hear all parts of the Easter story. It’s such a gift to be able to watch videos when it works for them, to re-wind and re-watch for clarity, and then to engage in the conversation and story. Through this pandemic we are all learning, adjusting and growing. There is also a lot more practical emphasis on the living Word, on God being with us and working through us right now and every day.”