The municipality of South Huron—population 10,000—is in Southwestern Ontario and consists of the town of Exeter and a number of hamlets and villages. The area is characterized by its agricultural foundation and its proximity to Lake Huron.
In recent years, area churches and community groups have been working together to strengthen and support the community in various ways. They started a Christmas dinner in 2015 as a way to bring people together who might not have anywhere else to go on Christmas Day. Upwards of 200 South Huron residents played games, mingled, and ate a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. That effort expanded into monthly community dinners hosted by local churches—again to provide fellowship and a home-cooked meal.
Fast forward to 2020: food insecurity and homelessness has increased substantially, even before the coronavirus pandemic. The monthly meals morphed into a daily soup kitchen and efforts were underway to provide more beds to a local men’s shelter and create a position for a housing advocate within the community. Accustomed to working together, these churches and community groups have been able to maintain services and respond during the pandemic.
Realizing that this year’s Christmas Dinner would not be possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, organizers debated how they could create community connections, share the celebration and promise of the Christmas season, and provide care for those who needed it most.
Two special projects have emerged.
The first is the “South Huron Community Angel Project,” which will link gift givers with those in need through a nomination and adoption process. There are many ways to bless: singing Christmas Carols for someone who doesn't get out much, dropping off a basket of goodies for someone who could use a treat, or maybe giving a person who is juggling a lot of responsibilities a gift certificate for a special delight. Each request and response is different, making space for creativity and joy this season while still being able to practice social distancing.
The second project that has emerged is a spin on the Bethlehem Walk, which features the Christmas story told in diorama and skits by costumed players. This year, the audience will travel from scene to scene from the safety of their cars while experiencing the miracle of the season as told by the Bible characters. Wise men, shepherds, the innkeeper ... they all contribute to the narrative, as do the Roman soldiers, census takers, and Mary and Joseph.
There will be five separate locations, each at a local church outdoors. Individuals and families will travel from Nazareth to the hills outside of Bethlehem and to the tiny stable. The Christmas story will be shared in five-to-seven-minute segments, allowing for travel between sites. The actors, singers, and even the parking attendants belong to their own respective bubbles, and a careful background orchestration will create a cohesive and complementary production while ensuring safety for all. Cars will be asked to follow the star—each site will be identified by this symbol that the wise men followed.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, there are still ways churches and ministries can connect with their community and share the hope of the gospel. May we all receive the greatest gift of all this Christmas season: the gift of God’s own son and the love for our communities.
Joan Brady is the Mission Catalyst for Classis Huron in Southwestern Ontario. She serves on Resonate Global Mission's Canada East team. Is your church wondering how to connect with your community and share the gospel this Christmas? Join Canada East in the Pivot Challenge.