Caring for the vulnerable (John 4:27a)

by Doug Klassen

Executive Minister of Mennonite Church Canada

I planned to preach at Eigenheim Mennonite Church in Rosthern, Sask., this coming Sunday, March 15. My sermon was nearly complete. I followed one of many preachable paths in John 4 and felt good about its conclusion. Now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, my plans have changed. I’m going to preach via video streaming, much like multisite churches do. I’m also changing my sermon.

I can’t use what I prepared; it would be a miss, maybe even irrelevant. We are only thinking about one thing these days, and it isn’t our rapidly changing climate, which is what my first message touched on. A pandemic, however, is something John 4 can help us address, too.

John 4:27 reads, “Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a (Samaritan) woman….” For millennia, cultures have functioned by labeling certain people as outsiders, unworthy, unclean. This was common in Jesus’s time. Jesus’s disciples tried to keep lepers, children, Samaritans and women away from him. There were religious protocols or stigmas to help enforce social distancing; protocols involving the Samaritans trace their origins all the way back to Ezra and Nehemiah.

Our government currently urges those who are asymptomatic (with a high-risk of complications) and symptomatic (with symptoms of COVID-19) to practice social distancing. This means isolating yourself at home, leaving 2 metres between yourself and others, having your groceries dropped off by loved ones, etc. During this time, I worry for those in our communities who already feel emotionally vulnerable and who may be put at risk. Our elderly, in particular, who count on pastoral visits and visits from family members, will need to be cared for in ways that are safe and also fulfilling. For pastors, this presents a challenge. We often talk about a ministry of presence – just showing up to be with people, without the need to say or do much for them. At the moment, this is not considered wise.

While it may not be advisable to be physically present with vulnerable people right now, our hearts can still reach out. Through phone calls, texts and other messages we can continue to engage and serve in the name of Jesus. We can plan to ensure that the loved ones of those affected are cared for and supported, and we can imagine ways to help those who don’t have care networks available to them.

Let us also remember those who have no choice but to get up and go to work despite risk of transmission and/or those who do not have benefits and insurance that will cover their days off, if they choose to self-isolate. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, these folks are vulnerable, too.

Jesus’ treatment of the woman left her feeling unburdened, dignified and safe. May our interactions with each other do the same. I’d like to echo the recent words of Carol Penner, who wrote a pandemic prayer this week, in which she asks God for resilience and for us to remember that ultimately, love is also contagious and stronger than any virus.

Pandemic prayer

by Carol Penner (


Great God,

you are an ever-present help in times of trouble,

and that’s why we’re praying now.

We are troubled and we’re worried things

are going to get more troubling.

This virus is spreading around the world:

so many are seriously ill

or will be seriously ill,

so many health care systems are stretched

or will be stretched.

Be with front line medical workers,

give them courage to do their work

and keep them safe.

Be with public health officials

as they make decisions for the common good,

and politicians as they roll those decisions out.

Help us to be kind to one another,

because anxiety can make us snappy.

Help our communities to be resilient

and expansive as we reach out to help

all who are isolated and afraid.

In these times of shutdowns and slowdowns,

when travel is restricted or banned,

as routines are disrupted and we spend

less time together or more time together,

help us zero in on what is essential.

Thank you that love is also contagious

and stronger than any virus.

You will be with us,

and we will be with each other

in sickness and in health.



We have updated resources that our Mennonite Church Canada Taskforce on Pandemic Preparedness and Response compiled during the flu pandemic of 2009-10. They are available at