by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister

Wow, March has been a long month…or at least it feels that way!   Just a month ago I attended a 100th anniversary celebration banquet for Mennonite Central Committee along with several hundred other people.  Now, that kind of gathering seems unthinkable! Every day since then the coronavirus pandemic has brought changes and challenges that we never considered before:  Cancellations, school closings, lay-offs and economic downturn, stay-at-home orders, daily news of suffering, death and rising numbers of COVID cases, the exhaustion of medical providers and the anguish of making hard choices about care-taking and social isolation… These are just a few of the new realities that surround us and bind us together with our global community.

As conference minister, I have been focusing on offering encouragement to pastors, gathering resources to communicate to congregations and leaders, exploring forms of financial assistance, and coordinating adjustments for WDC staff.   As we prepare to enter another month of this unfolding situation, I pause a few moments to share some reflections and observations:

In a crisis, priorities shift.  Hygiene and meeting basic daily needs are now our first concern. Suddenly hand sanitizer and toilet paper are scarce! Other staple supplies like flour, sugar and milk have become more precious.  Garden seeds and baby chicks are in high demand for their promise of fresh vegetables and eggs in the months to come. Emotional and mental health practices are more crucial now than ever, whether that means a daily walk, listening to music, chatting with a friend (by phone/video or from a distance, of course), or just getting enough sleep.  Beneath the stress and anxiety of this time, we are also feeling a lot of sadness and loss as our dreams, plans and goals have been set aside with the cancellation of church events, conferences, banquets, fund-raisers, concerts, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, vacations, projects, travels, family visits and more. Yet, at the same time, resourcefulness abounds!  Pastors and church leaders are creatively using all kinds of social media, phone calls and old-fashioned mail to connect with church members, hold Sunday school, worship together, pray for one another, and reach out to their communities. Congregations are sharing ideas and resources with each other. New gifts and talents are being realized and offered for the common good.   New skills are being learned that will serve us well into the future.

On a deeper level, the coronavirus pandemic is revealing very starkly the systemic inequities that have always existed in our society. While some of us are only experiencing minor inconvenience, others among us are facing immediate crisis due to lack of dependable income, healthy food, child-care, adequate medical care, or internet connection. The pandemic also exposes our common humanity and frailty, and contradicts the myth that we are invincible and in control. While we should, of course, do all we can (please, please follow guidelines for stopping the spread of COVID-19!), we must also humbly acknowledge our human limitations and mortality.  This is a time to be honest with our doubts, questions and fears – and also to affirm our hope and trust in our Creator God who enters our suffering in solidarity with us.   In the same way, this crisis is a time for us to practice compassion and generosity, to share sacrificially with others, to give what we can to support those who are struggling most.  It is a time to practice patience and kindness for care-providers, our families and friends, co-workers, and ourselves.

As we find our way forward in these uncertain times, may we know the deep peace of God’s care, Christ’s call to justice and compassion, and the wise guidance of the Holy Spirit.