Written by Gerald Dyck – Lead Pastor @Westide Community Church (WCC)
How we’ve seen God at work at WCC this past year? Wow, what a question! It’s been a year of “survival.” We’ve attempted to learn as much as possible by viewing The challenge as an opportunity.
It’s been a year of continual adjusting and maneuvering. When gatherings restrictions were put in place, we faced challenges such as, how do we stay connected, how do we provide content, how do we as staff justify getting paid? (Just kidding, of course) But more importantly, how do we carry out the mission of the Church in a time when the church is needed more than ever.
Right from the beginning, it seemed as though God was saying, “Who are you or what are you about when you don’t have Sunday morning available to you?” We can’t say we had a great plan or strategy. We simply wanted to love and care for our community with a posture of humility and an eye on the hope of Jesus Christ. Here are some of the things we’ve done and how the Kingdom has been revealed to and through the church.
We decided early on that we wouldn’t record and post a typical-for-us worship service. We didn’t have much online presence in March 2020, but we did have some people from our church who are skilled in film production –Golden Hour Creative Agency, who now had some time available. They had the passion and vision for producing content that would be engaging and of high production value. This allowed us to film weekly messages from remote locations around our community. For eight months, we recorded in greenhouses, cemeteries, bars, museums, city jail, chicken coops, a baseball dugout, sunflower fields, cow pastures, woods, etc.
We hoped to promote our community spaces while we fed the people of Westside. We also hoped this would appeal to our community to discover where we were filming each week. As a result, we’ve had many Kingdom conversations with our community business owners, grocery stores and other workplaces.
It’s been great to receive online interaction with many who appreciate our attempts at connection. One individual shared, “You won’t see me in a church, but I have cancer, and someone told me to watch what your church is doing. I did, and now I would like to talk about life and death, you know, a light conversation or two.” We’ve been able to connect and share the gospel message in a very real way.
We have a large oak tree at the front of our church, which is off the main highway through the middle of Morden, and we decided to light it up for Christmas. After purchasing lights and renting scissor lifts, the tree was lit for the entire city to see. We hoped it would be a symbol of joy and hope. We were surprised at how many appreciative comments we received from those who did not have any pre-existing connection to the church. Comments such as “I smile every time I pass that tree” and “I feel hope, and I know this COVID season won’t last forever when I drive by,” or “Please keep that tree lit when Christmas is over.” (The tree remains lit, and the plan is to keep it that way.) It’s just a tree with lights, but it’s actually so much more. The tree serves as a nightly reminder that we are to be a light to the world, not to be hidden but to be bold and in the world.
Co-op Grocery Store Shrink
“Shrink” is the soon-to-be postdated or damaged packaged goods that grocery stores usually discard. For the past year, we have entered into a partnership that has us picking up food and distributing hampers on Mondays to various families and stocking other food cupboards. Past its prime, produce and bread can go to feed livestock. This has opened the doors to relationships with so many who wouldn’t usually come through our church doors. We were also given the opportunity to be the community food bank for a month over Christmas.
The local Co-op recently created a Facebook promo of partnership with a local church and how they appreciate the relationship and look to expand the partnership in the future.
We collaborated with a chef in our congregation to make approximately 275 bowls of soup a week. The soup was then distributed to our front-line workers such as hospital staff, clinics, teachers, daycares, city administration, seniors, city workers, police, etc. To date, we have provided approximately 4 thousand bowls of soup to our community.
These simple acts have generated goodwill with our community. They have been a way for us to be the Church in ways we probably wouldn’t have taken on without the reality of society in isolation and times of desperation. As we have begun to resume Sunday services, we have some new faces in the building and new ways to engage with others.
I’ve been impressed by how other Mennonite Brethren churches have been reaching out to serve others. We indeed followed some great examples. Just to name a few, Winkler MB Church has been doing work like this for years, and we steal as many ideas from them as we can. Jubilee Church in Winnipeg and 188 Princess have modelled what it looks like to be deeply involved with the people in their neighbourhoods.
It’s a challenge to be engaged directly in community work which automatically makes us a messier place. But through our interactions with our community, we have been invited into more and more opportunities to serve others.
We’ve also noticed that the more we know, the less we know. We’ve been humbled by our ignorance and are daunted by the opportunities. We know that only God can pull off what’s next. Our reliance on Him is paramount. It’s only through prayer and availability can we be who God has called us to be. God has been teaching us to love our community. Our Sunday morning gatherings should be about equipping all those in attendance or watching online to embrace the gospel message and extend it to others each day of the week.