A Winnipeg bishop suggests maintaining physical space during the pandemic crisis could narrow the social distance between friends, families and communities of faith.
"It actually leads to a great amount and greater depth of communication, friendship and connectivity," says Archbishop Albert LeGatt of St. Boniface about the spiritual and emotional side effects of social distancing due to COVID-19.
"It’s a time to be more creative about it."
Public services, meetings and activities in the province’s faith communities may be cancelled or postponed, but that also creates new opportunities for people, says Anglican Bishop Geoff Woodcroft of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.
Last year, Anglicans made headlines when officials predicted their denomination may die out by 2040. But now with the unprecedented events of the past few weeks, Woodcroft says that date has been moved to 2020.
"It’s the death of the church today and now it’s not business as normal," he says of how the church can reinvent itself.
"We’re choosing to step out of normal and be the compassionate arm we’re always called to be.
Inspired by Woodcroft’s invitation to step out of normal, the Free Press invited faith leaders of many traditions to offer wisdom, spiritual guidance or practical advice to our readers as they cope with uncertainty and anxiety.
"Learn to live without control: Jewish tradition teaches us we’re never in complete control of our lives, no matter how much we think we are. We must stay calm. We need to try to count the blessings we do have and be thankful for them... We also need to breathe and let go of the things we can’t control. I believe that’s what faith is all about."
— Rabbi Matthew Leibl, Congregation Shaarey Zedek
Find God’s way in the midst of fear: "We are praying that this global crisis might spark acts of solidarity that will cross boundaries that were formerly impassible. Our faith gives us hope that we will be able to bridge our differences of belief and culture and find a new way of healing and reconciliation with one another and with the earth."
— Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church
Slow your pace: "I feel there is a calling to move into this unprecedented time slowly and reflectively and to move through with consciousness and compassion. Nothing is the same but we are not alone."
— Rev. Michael Wilson, Charleswood United Church
Be a transforming influence: "We are doing our best to serve and be present. We are living out our mission in such ways as providing emergency food assistance, and staying connected to our congregation and community, especially our vulnerable population, by offering a listening ear and sharing in heartfelt prayers."
— Captains Tina & Josh Howard, Salvation Army Heritage Park Temple
Keep praying: "We are encouraging others to pray with us and for us. We see our role in all of this to help all people have hope in the face of adversity and to trust that God still leads us and guides us."
— Bishop Jason Zinko, Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
The Christian life is a spiritual life where prayer is at the centre. "We as Catholics in Manitoba wish to say very simply that we are praying for our whole community, province and country, during these days of trial. The Archdiocese of Winnipeg is encouraging private prayer and Scripture reading in families as we believe that the family itself is a kind of ‘domestic church.’"
— Archbishop Richard Gagnon, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg.
Comfort each other. "It is time to reflect on our actions, to reevaluate our spiritual life and our relationship with God. It is time to deepen our faith and show our faith by action, not only by words. Now is the test, to show that we trust God, to grow spiritually, to connect with God, to comfort others, to think of others."
— Rev. Marcus Farag, St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church
Create another way. "Let every action be shaped by a calling that recognizes and celebrates the inherent dignity and the image of God in every person and the hope of transformation through Christ. We must remain a community of faith that stands in awe of God and the possibility of transformation that exists, even in this uncertain time. There is a sacredness in this journey that the church is called to embrace."
— Major Shawn Critch, divisional commander, Salvation Army Prairie Division
Patience and gratitude: "The Prophet Muhammad said that faith is part patience and part gratitude. Whether we are believers in a religion or not, we need a healthy dose of both of these qualities of patience and gratitude. Patience as a spiritual quality is not when we put up with whatever is happening because we have no choice, but it is when we approach things beyond our control with acceptance and love. Gratitude is so badly needed in our world. Hopefully all of this will make us appreciate the things we can no longer do, the places we can no longer visit and the people we can no longer hug or touch. I hope people of faith, many deprived of the opportunity to worship in their houses of worship, realize that while the doors of the building are closed, the doors of God’s mercy and love remain open, as always. Mosque and churches and other houses of worship are a means to an end, and if we focus on the end, we can cope with the absence of the buildings from our lives."
— Idris Elbakri, board chair, Manitoba Islamic Association
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.