Like most of the country, Alberta is experiencing, its second wave of novel coronavirus. As of early December, as many as 1,800 Albertans were contracting COVID-19 every day. With the Christmas season approaching, every church had to look at past traditions and ask whether to try to alter them in some way or to cancel activities altogether.
Lethbridge Mennonite is continuing its Christmas Eve candlelight service, but in two seatings, with 30 minutes in between.
Calgary First Mennonite Church decided to host its annual Christmas banquet on Zoom but without the meal. On Dec. 5, congregants were given the opportunity to participate in the traditional silent auction of baked goods, but without seeing the baking in advance. Bids were sent by text, phone, or email, with the winners receiving their items by touchless delivery. All proceeds went to the church’s compassion fund.
Since Christmas cards could not be placed in individual mail slots at Edmonton First Mennonite Church, a drop-off box was created outside the front doors. Cards will be organized in bags and delivered.
The Calgary Inter-Mennonite Church hymn sing that happens every year on the first Sunday of Advent was cancelled.
Another time-honoured Christmas tradition is the decorating of churches, which includes dusting off and hanging the nativity quilts and banners, putting up the Christmas tree and laying out the Advent wreath, which is a visual reminder that Christ is bringing hope, peace, joy and love into this broken world. But many will not be in a church building this Christmas. They will not see the decorations.
Multiple churches have suggested that each family make their own wreath to display in their living rooms and that they light them in unison with the worship leader online during the Sunday morning service. Foothills Mennonite has encouraged its congregants to be creative and share their wreath story with others.
Kate and Bob Janzen, who live on a farm in Airdrie, made their rustic wreath from barn boards and barbed wire, with greenery and candles picked up at the Mennonite Central Committee Thrift store.
Hanna Martens, who is currently working towards a master’s degree in ecology in Bremen, Germany, shared her living wreath made from moss, pinecones and succulents from the forest.
This is the first time Brenda Tiessen-Wiens and Trevor Wiens have had Advent candles in their home, even though, as a little girl, Tiessen-Wiens remembers her dad drilling four holes in a log for the candles. It sat on top of the TV, decorated with a garland or sometimes real pine boughs.
“When Foothills invited us to make a wreath at home and share it, I thought it was a great idea to encourage an ‘at home’ ritual and to add meaning to a season where we're not able to be physically together in church,” she says. “It's a way of doing something individual that reminds us of the community that we're a part of.”
Unfortunately, the wreath sits in their living room and needs to be put in the pantry every night, because their cat likes to drag the beads around and knock the pine cones on the floor.
Carole Neufeldt also has happy childhood memories around the Advent wreath: “When I was a young girl, my mom always had a small brass angel display that had four candles that I watched her light each Sunday before Christmas. I anticipated each candle being lit because, with each candle, the angels would move faster and faster and hit a small bell. As a child, it was very exciting and I always looked forward to it every year.”
She appreciates the chance to pause and reflect on the Christmas season, and says: “The time leading up to Christmas can be so busy and the meaning of it all, as it relates to our Christ Jesus, can be lost at times. By lighting a candle and having a moment of reflection on the reason for Christmas, it helps refocus on what truly matters. Hope, faith, joy and peace.”
Karen Mierau and LaVerna Elliot have been best friends for more than 10 years and they live a 10-minute walk apart. Having created a pandemic bubble, they collaborated on their Advent wreath. Elliot offered a family stone wreath and Mierau quilted a square mat to place underneath.
On Nov. 29, the first Sunday of Advent, Elliot wrote the devotional for Foothills Mennonite’s morning service. “The familiar of this time of year has been stripped away: the gathering of friends, the choir practice, the choral concerts, raising voices together in worship, the children’s presentations,” said Elliot. “Perhaps we ourselves are feeling exiled by something so small, but so powerful, it has shuttered us in our homes. Where is hope in this season of my life?” She then lit a candle and ended her devotion with the encouragement to meet Jesus in a fresh way with hopeful expectation.
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Alberta? Send it to Joanne De Jong at email@example.com.
Erika Pappas of Edmonton Mennonite Church is amazed at what can be done with a few dollars at the Dollar Store. (Photo by Erika Pappas)
Brenda Tiessen-Wiens and Trevor Wiens display their very first Advent wreath so they can participate in community worship. (Photo by Brenda Tiessen-Wiens)
Kate and Bob Janzen create an Advent wreath from barn boards and barbed wire. (Photo by Kate Janzen)
Hanna Martens displays her living wreath made from moss, pinecones and succulents from the forest. (Photo by Hanna Martens)
Carole Neufeldt creates an Advent wreath using items from around the house. (Photo by Carole Neufeldt)
An Advent wreath created by Rose Goertzen for the altar at Bergthal Mennonite Church in Didsbury, Alta. (Photo by Anna-Lisa Salo)