A few years before I came on staff at Gateway Church in 1992, our congregation had bought land and built a new church building on the edge of East Elmwood. We were the new neighbours. The newcomers to the area.
As we grew, we began to look for ways to be neighbourly. We started a weekly food and clothing bank. We launched two neighbourhood drop-in centres, one for pre-teens and one for teens. We offered floor hockey nights in our building. We hosted holiday feasts and carnivals for the people of East Elmwood. They were all ways we could be good neighbours.
This idea of being neighbourly is something that all humanity recognizes as appropriate human behaviour. I believe that’s because God is a loving God, and when he created the world, he chose to create humanity in his image, the result being that having love for others is an intrinsic part of who we are as people.
In fact, being a good neighbour is something that is at the core of Christianity. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment in the Bible was, he couldn’t resist listing two commands in his answer: Love God and love your neighbour — “There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)
Jesus went on to explain in his famous story of the good Samaritan that to be a good neighbour meant going out of your way to make life-affecting sacrifices for others.
Fast-forward to 2020, and suddenly we have new ways to love our neighbours. This past spring, when the Manitoba government asked churches to reduce their meeting sizes, churches complied in the spirit of being a good neighbour.
After all these years of seeking to love our neighbours in East Elmwood, we couldn’t imagine carelessly carrying on our big Sunday meetings at the risk of community spread to a neighbourhood God had called us to love sacrificially. We couldn’t imagine intentionally adding to the healthcare burden for community hospitals and care homes just because of our inflexibility in how we offered our worship services.
It was because we felt called by God to love our neighbours in the midst of these new and unusual circumstances that we — as well as many other churches — turned to offering live-streamed services.
And this is why we feel it’s loving to ask people to wear masks while also being appropriately socially-distanced as we go back to in-person services this fall. In the same way we teach our children to cover their mouths when they cough so they won’t spread germs, we want to love our neighbours by donning our masks in public gatherings.
There are many uncertainties as schools are back in session, and as businesses seek to do business, and as churches are again gathering in both large and small groups. But there’s one thing we can do — and which we feel called by God to do — and that’s to love our neighbours in the way we navigate through these very unusual times.