When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in March, it interrupted my plans. I had five more flights booked for visits to various Presbyterian congregations and larger gatherings in my role as Moderator of the 2019 General Assembly. In June I would install the next moderator and then be free to focus on my own congregational ministry in Regina. But, like everyone else, I had to change my plans and adjust to the requirements of continuing ministry in a global pandemic without an end in sight.
The 2020 General Assembly had to be cancelled, so I would be moderator for an extra year. And since I couldn’t travel or visit congregations or attend in-person meetings, I had to figure out how to fulfill my role in new ways. I wrote and shared letters and prayers, recorded video greetings and reflections, “visited” presbyteries by video conference, and took part in online worship services and special events. One Sunday I preached at a service of the Guyana Presbyterian Church (one of our ecumenical partners) and then later preached in Regina. Another week I shared a message in Mosa, Ont., while simultaneously reading scripture in Cranbrook, B.C.
Like many people during the pandemic, I worked from home and spent a huge amount of time sitting at a computer. I soon realized that I was struggling to maintain balance in my life between work and rest, between meetings and time for personal reflection and prayer. It took great determination to find opportunities to keep moving my body, rather than just sitting and meeting and eating all day.
Almost four years ago, I made an intentional decision to walk every day. I did it to improve my health and increase my energy level, beginning with just a kilometre or two each day, and slowly increasing my pace and distance. The difference it made in my health was remarkable, and it led me to make changes in my food choices as well. But the extra blessing that came with the addition of walking in my life was that it opened up space in my days for thinking, pondering and prayer. Walking every day, even on the coldest January days in Saskatchewan, has encouraged my spirit, helped me to pray, reduced my stress level, made me a better preacher and a more confident leader, and given me a fresh appreciation for God’s Creation.
So, I decided to re-commit to walking every day as a spiritual discipline, and to put my daily practice of walking at the service of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. I decided to go on a pilgrimage of prayer for my church. It wasn’t a pilgrimage to a certain destination. I walked around my own quiet neighbourhood, and occasionally went out to some other beautiful, wide-open spaces on the Prairie. It was less about a destination, and more about the journey.
I prayed as I walked, walking 1 km for each ministry of my denomination, plus 1 km for our ecumenical partners in the Canadian Council of Churches. That meant about 10-11 km per day, adding up to 931 km between June 1 and Aug. 31. I invited congregations and other churches to submit prayer requests so that I could pray more specifically. So, for example, on July 9 I prayed for the continued strengthening of the Canadian ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America – that they will be strengthened in governance, operation, direction, and control – all in an effort to strengthen evangelism.
Over a hundred Presbyterians across Canada walked and prayed with me throughout the summer. We followed the same prayer list each day and prayed our way across Canada from the West Coast to the East. We shared experiences and prayed for one another through monthly video conferences and daily engagement on Facebook. We gave thanks for the bodies God gave us and the fact that they can move. We got out of our homes to places where we could walk safely and keep physical distance from others. We enjoyed the air and the sun and much beauty along the way. And we prayed together for our wonderful, creative, faithful, and diverse Presbyterian Church in Canada and our ecumenical siblings in the One Body of Christ.
I don’t know what new challenges our churches may face in the coming months and years, and how our plans may be interrupted. We will need to continually adjust to new circumstances. I hope we can keep walking and praying together, trusting that God will be with us to guide us through.