Dear Elgin-Portland Family & Friends,
Today, May 28, 2020, marks the 9th Anniversary of my ordination into the Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care within the United Church of Canada, which made me the very first Armenian woman ordained by our denomination.
What a blessing it is to have this anniversary sneak up on us amid this pandemic. Memories are a double-edged sword – they make us cry when we think of our loved ones who have died, and Lord knows we have lost a few these days; but they also help us remember the good times and celebrate love. This is what memories do in a nutshell; but as time goes by, our memories help turn difficult losses into blessed celebrations of relief from pain.
Many people are grieving these days. Not just the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 or other natural causes, but also, we are grieving what we are missing, our regular meetings, gatherings, dinners, lunches, concerts, not seeing each other in close proximity. Missing hugging each other, breaking bread together, sharing the cup, and just simply being together. But our grief cannot lead us into taking risks. Your wellbeing, my wellbeing, our collective wellbeing is far more precious and important than reacting in such a way that puts everyone at risk.
I wanted to write to you today and share what is going on with your minister and our ministry together. No one told us how to handle a pandemic in seminary or in any school, but Jesus has demonstrated to rely on the Presence of God’s Love and Faithfulness – reminding us to stay grounded in the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Since, March 14, my husband, Gary, and I have become a film production couple. We started recording virtual worship services, with my cellular phone, putting a whole lot of different pieces together to create one cohesive video and upload to our YouTube channel. Each music video takes over two hours to create, the filming is the easy part, but creating an entire video and posting them on YouTube is a whole another story. But I am so grateful for the technological gifts that exist around us, in this time and place, and most of all, for the gift of Gary, because without his technological help, I would not be able to do this virtual work. How amazing it is to have a techy guy right in the same house 😊. Sometimes the rural internet bandwidth teaches us to be patient, as our internet is sometimes slow and even slower. At the end of each virtual worship service creation, my prayer is that people are blessed by them. I am grateful to all who send me notes, call me up, and let me know how blessed they are. So, the words of Apostle Paul come to mind, who says, “Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
No one can see the future, but God’s Spirit guides us in different ways and moves people’s hearts to help lead others to springs of quiet waters just in time to quench their thirst. That is sort of what happened to Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge. Back in July 2019, a visitor at Elgin United Church (EUC) saw how their vision to have stronger presence on the world wide web was apparent, but they were missing the financial component to complete this vision. The visitor donated money to be used for this specific need – to help EUC have a presence online. No one knew that as of March 2020 the churches will be forced to close their buildings and we will need to create virtual worship services. While we were using my cell phone to record the virtual services, which produced lesser quality compared to a video camera, EUC’s AV Team stepped up to the plate and purchased the recommended camera at the beginning of May for the Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge’s use. Since Autumn 2019 research was done by Mary Daniel, who is a professor in film. She spent many hours researching the details of the needs of Elgin United Church and recommended the appropriate camera. Nobody knew that our last worship gathering would be March 8. Therefore, since May 10, the video camera purchased by EUC, from the above-mentioned donation, has become a saving grace for the entire pastoral charge. What a gift it is for a camera to arrive at EUC and have the entire pastoral charge, and the world, be blessed through this. Sharing is definitely caring, and caring will always lead to sharing, therefore we are so blessed to have such a caring pastoral charge.
I thought I was busy before the self isolation orders, but right now, I am busier more than ever before. I do not know where the time goes but planning a virtual worship service takes much greater time than ever before. But all is done gladly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that is what we are called to live – The Good News of Jesus. In the middle of this pandemic, we have also started a new avenue of reaching out beyond the internet. As of May 24, every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. our virtual worship services are aired on Cogeco TV in the areas of, Smiths Falls, Perth, Kemptville, Oxford Mills, Port Elmsley, and others. Who would have thought that EPPC worship services will be aired on television channel that is not even available in Elgin nor Portland!
I also bear in mind that not everyone has the luxury of internet, so I have called individuals and asked if they would like a print copy of my sermons even though I believe the sermon is not what is on the paper, but what is shared through the breath of the person speaking – who is led by the Spirit of God. Moreover, I try to call as many people as possible and offer them a prayer, a listening heart, and remind them that they are not alone and not forgotten – I also make the time to mail greeting cards. I am also aware that Sharing and Caring Teams from both Elgin and Portland are keeping in touch with people and see if there is anything anyone needs.
For the last three Sundays (May 10, 17, 24) at 2:00 p.m. we have gathered via Zoom online and had chats. The numbers of participants fluctuate, but I have to say that all who “attend” always feel happier that they arrived. This is another example how technology can help us fill in the gaps of our distancing.
Our VIBE gatherings are going well on Wednesday evenings, and we are carrying out our meetings through Zoom as well and we are not sure if we will ever go back to gathering in person, as we are enjoying this online venue for many reasons: First, we are having a smaller carbon footprint, as we come together by staying home. Have you heard? Animals are coming out on city streets, as human activity has taken a slower pace. Many places have less smog and pollution – hence Mother Nature is healing herself because humanity’s busyness has slowed down… Second, there is savings beyond our comprehension for both the church and the attendees – less mileage, less car maintenance, less gas expenses – who doesn’t like to save… Third, I prepare a PowerPoint to accompany our discussions and keep us focused on the topic at hand. Lastly, but not least, who would want to leave the comfort of our homes and get out. When the time comes and we do decide to continue to meet this way, we do not even have to worry about stopping our gatherings in winter, and continue to do Adult Christian Education all year long, from the comfort of our homes.
Speaking of Christian Education, during the week of May 18, I was supposed to be in Atlanta, GA for the annual preaching conference (the Festival of Homiletics), that I love so much. The pandemic forced this conference to be cancelled as well. However, through the visionary people at Luther Seminary, they offered a few of the speakers and worship services to us virtually – FREE of CHARGE. So, I took advantage of the Canadian long weekend and enjoyed some of my favourite preachers, singers, and teachers online – Now I can say, all my favourite preachers have been to our house 😊. This year’s topic was, “Preaching a New Earth: Climate and Creation”, and what a great way to help a new earth be born out of care for climate and creation. Instead of having over 1,800 ministers fly from all over the world to Atlanta, GA; they had 15,000 ministers participate virtually from their own homes.
The learning continues, I have also been taking courses (Scriptural Text Studies) online on Tuesday mornings, offered by The Rev. Dr. Karoline M. Lewis of Luther Seminary. Each class is only $10.00 U.S. If it were not for this pandemic, we would not have such a prestigious professor and Biblical Scholar offer these courses. She has been able to do them as she had no speaking engagements, nor seminary students to teach in person. Not only did she help expand our horizons every Tuesday morning, she also became a pastoral presence to over seventy ministers per week. She might continue to offer these gatherings beyond COVID-19. On Another note, I am also so blessed to have a few minister colleagues that meet with me regularly through Zoom and we “show up” for each other and be a presence of wisdom, care and love.
Beloved, there are many, many positive outcomes around us at this time of COVID-19; even though we hear so much of the pain and suffering. Amid the pain we hear of strangers uniting, caring and working constantly to make this world a better place. The outpouring of love that we are seeing can only come from the heart of God and that love is found in every single person, we just need to be ready to share. As much as there is distance between us, we are more united than ever before.
Friends, there is so much I can write, but one must decide when to stop and allow you to absorb all this information. It feels so peculiar to write to you on what has been happening for the last eleven weeks, because this seems to be almost as long as the minister’s annual report. No one person knows how to handle such moments in life, but we will trust the One to give us Wisdom, Faith, Hope and Love to continue through these days and to reach out to all who need a helping hand, a listening heart and a caring soul. Therefore, let us continue to pray for one another to the Creator who helps us keep on keeping on and to carry on the work of Justice that Jesus started more than two thousand years ago.
Our churches have not closed, it is just the buildings that are closed temporarily – the work of Christ is still going on. Like the Third Century Desert Fathers and Mothers (early Christian hermits), who retreated to an ascetic lifestyle in the caves of the deserts of Egypt and other places in that region, to spend quiet time to learn about their own self and their connection with the Creator, let us hold on to these moments of retreat and search the depth of our mind, heart and soul and connect with the Creator by connecting with our feelings, family members and friends. Use your telephone, e-mail, texting ability, Messenger, Facebook, and greeting cards to reach out to others and reconnect. In the moments that you feel lost, like many of us do, may you be found in the arms of the Eternal Presence who is the LOVER of Your Soul and desires to spend time with you.
Be well, stay safe, call someone if you need something, call someone if you can offer help, don’t forget to wear your mask and wash your hands every time you go in and out of your dwelling space… Go with God, The Spirit of God is closer to you than the breath you breathe.
Because of Grace,
Rev. Takouhi Demirdjian-Petro
The Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge