Pixels, pancakes and people

This article first appeared on Fresh Expressions Canada, January 27, 2021.

Funnily enough, it all started with Ash Wednesday. 

My church was one of the lucky ones. When the pandemic hit, though we weren’t live-streaming at the time, we had an impressive tech booth set up and ready to go. We’d been working towards multisite worship with some minister-less churches in our region so the move to livestreaming through social media was relatively easy.

A good portion of our community was already Zoom literate, and many of our region’s wider church meetings took place online. You see, in Northern Ontario (especially in the winter) Zoom beats a 4.5 (or longer) drive any day!

But it’s still not the same. Worshipping online is not possible for all our members for many reasons, some don’t have the know-how, the technology or the internet. I’m sure you’ve read about the woes of rural internet across Canada and how that’s a roadblock to working and learning from home. Worshipping from home has the same challenge. 

Still, over the past year, we’ve had board meetings and bible study on Zoom. We have been able to function and worship together, even if our whole body couldn’t meet together. I’ve also found myself writing newspaper articles, newsletters and letters more than I ever thought a millennial pastor would in hopes of reaching our offline members. But, at the end of the day, there are some things you just cannot do online (or paper).

I cannot offer ashes to my congregants. At least not with our current stay-at-home orders in Ontario. And so I wondered, how will we mark the beginning of Lent together?

Well, we had a lot of fun at our Zoom Christmas party last month, and I was watching for the next opportunity for us to gather. As I stared at Ash Wednesday on the calendar I was struck by the date right before: Pancake Tuesday. 

I love Shrove Tuesday. Growing up, my family was always big into pancakes. I love the many communal dinners our churches share on that date—celebrating a centuries-old tradition by eating breakfast for dinner. And so, I asked our leadership, would we want to gather for Mardi Gras, to eat together yet apart?

The answer was yes. But we also wondered whether others would participate? How could we make it as easy as possible to do it?

Well, we could deliver pancake mix. Someone had a family recipe we could use, instead of the boxed stuff. Another would be willing to make the mix. Others deliver. Maybe busy families would be more likely to join now?

So that’s the plan. We’ll be munching on flapjacks together over Zoom, getting our sticky fingers all over the keyboard, eating “Nana’s homemade pancakes”. We’ll play some games and take time to share in breakout rooms. We’ll celebrate Fat Tuesday in preparation for the journey towards Jerusalem that is Lent.

There will still be an Ash Wednesday service online, though it’ll feel strange. There are certainly some things we can’t quite do online. But pancakes? That we can do. Thanks be to God.

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