This pandemic has been unsettling for all of us, and tragic for many Canadians. But we have also seen heart-warming examples of compassion and generosity, including right here our own neighborhood.
On March 11, St. John Lutheran Church made the difficult decision to cancel church services to protect its members and the community, but also set an example of physical distancing. Shortly after, the option of holding worship as usual was prevented officially by the ban on large group gatherings.
But even though the congregation could no longer meet in person, the challenge remained: how would St. John keep up with its outreach work? Each week, the church collects donations and food for the Partage Vanier Food Bank, and it was important that this continue, even though the church itself was facing questions about how to keep up with its own bills. “We learned that the food bank had an acute need for cash,” said Art Pittman, the chair of St. John’s church council. “Families were at risk of going hungry as people lost their jobs.”
So St. John started its first GoFundMe challenge, and set the goal for fundraising at a daunting $12,500 – a dollar figure chosen to reflect the 125th anniversary that the parish will celebrate this year. The response was immediate. Within a week, the more than half the goal had been reached. Within the month, the fundraising goal had been surpassed, when donations delivered directly to the church were added to those made online through GoFundMe. As of May 9th, the donation amount is $13,795.00
Dozens of donations have been made, not only by members at Saint John, but by other churches, individuals and families. “It’s a great story of kindness in a time when aspects of this crisis have taken a huge toll – often in unseen ways due to social distancing,” said Peter Woods, the minister at MacKay United Church, which responded quickly to support the initiative. “I hope and pray that the inspirations found in these complex days echo loud and clear into our future practices as faith communities and neighbors.”
The response of the community is a further symbol of how, even while being forced to stay at a distance, we can still reach out and help each other. A church does not exist to tend to its own bricks and mortar, but to be in mission for others. That so many families also look beyond their front doors for ways to help vulnerable Canadians during this difficult time is truly inspiring.
“The pandemic is hard on all of us,” said Art Pittman, the chair of St. John’s church council. “I believe this shows how people are unified and fulfilled, when they work together to love their neighbours.”
The needs at the Partage Vanier Food Bank may only increase as the months go on. The GoFundMe challenge still exists, and Saint John is optimistic that the community will continue to be generous with their support and that we will find new ways to help families in need.
These are uncertain times going forward with the risk of a second wave, the fallout of an economic downturn, and so many jobs lost and lives interrupted. But we can take hope from our choice to stay united as a community.
by Rev. Joel Crouse