Testing faith: Spirituality in the face of tragedy and COVID-19 in Nova Scotia – TheChronicleHerald.ca

NEW MINAS, N.S.

Theres no question that faith and spirituality are tested through lifes trials and tribulations.

Whether or not people are inclined to participate in organized religion, the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and recent tragedies in Nova Scotia have impacted people on an emotional, if not spiritual, level.

Daniel Cormier, senior pastor at the New Minas Baptist Church, said he believes that God gives us faith and tests it.

Hes looking to refine and hopefully do a work in us but the testing is not always pleasant, Cormier said.

He said Nova Scotia has been rocked recently by many tragic circumstances, including a mass shooting, a fatal military helicopter crash and economic fallout that has affected everyone during the overarching COVID-19 pandemic.

Generally speaking, weve been tested for sure, Cormier said.

The New Minas Baptist Church is currently holding services online. Cormier said not being able to physically congregate has had an impact on members of the church family, which includes a wide demographic.

This is perhaps more pronounced for congregation members who are single and have been isolated to a greater degree during the pandemic.

Weve had to be especially strategic, keeping within the health restrictions, to let them know that theyre not alone, Cormier said.

He believes that God created us for relationships, so when we cant be close or cant be together, mental wellness if affected. There is a lot of fallout from this that can be very challenging.

On the other hand, having weathered such storms, peoples faith and spirituality can be strengthened as a result.

Cormier said he has heard many stories of people arriving at a greater realization of what is truly important in their lives, rediscovering themselves as lifes pace slowed and they got to spend more time with children or a spouse, for example.

In spite of all the bad, there is the good in the sense that it boils it down to what really is important, Cormier said. A lot of people are so increasingly busy that relationships were probably suffering because we were overworked or overstressed and just overextended.

John Andrew, an ordained minister and executive director of the Open Arms Resource Centre Society, said he isnt sure where the dividing line falls between spirituality and emotional well-being but even their leadership team felt the impact of not being able to connect as they normally would during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the clutter and clamour of our busyness and responsibilities, the fact that life was halted longer than we were comfortable with led to a greater sense of self-understanding for many.

Some rediscovered the importance of family or reintroduced exercise to their lives, for example. Andrew said he now has a greater sense of routine or regularity surrounding his own spiritual practice than before.

Like many people, he lost a loved one, his grandmother, during this time. Andrew said he found this particularly challenging because he didnt have the normal rituals, mechanisms and social supports to work through it. On the other hand, because of the quiet, he was able to say goodbye in ways that were perhaps deeper.

In a strange way, for many of us, its almost like we needed this, Andrew said.

He doesnt think weve seen the last of COVID-19, unfortunately, but many in the community have demonstrated compassion and resiliency throughout the pandemic. He hopes we have all learned or gained something through the experience.

At a time when the province was impacted economically, Nova Scotia experienced a mass shooting and a fatal military helicopter crash. On a cross-country tour, one of Canadas greatest symbols of hope, the Snowbirds, experienced a terrible tragedy.

It just seemed like we couldnt win for a while, Andrew said. When those things happen and discouragement sort of hovers above us, what do we have, what really matters? I feel like I can answer that better, and I hope others can, than I could have three months ago.

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Early in the pandemic, Open Arms established a food support program called Neighbour to Neighbour in Kings and Annapolis counties. When people registered, they were asked if theyd also like a wellness call.

Andrew said most of the 250 to 300 households theyve assisted through the program wanted such a call, some requesting prayer time, for example.

He said some of the functions of Open Arms are similar to a church community. Although not everyone they help wants to connect on a faith level, theyve noticed that many who would not normally attend a recovery group, Bible study or worship service outright requested emotional and spiritual supports.

In terms of need, they are currently noticing a split between clients who are already known to them and people who are self-isolating due to health issues or are out of work. He said mature, single individuals seem particularly hard-hit.

Obviously its been a rough time for many people and in many ways but there is a beauty in that, Andrew said. Suddenly, people are reaching beyond their normal circles and safe places.

As restrictions surrounding COVID-19 begin to relax, Cormier said people are presented with an opportunity to press lifes reset button or to re-prioritize, focusing more on what matters to them and less on what doesnt.

One thing that concerns him as a pastor is that as individuals discover truths about themselves or embark on journeys of self-rediscovery, there is the danger of placing too many expectations on ourselves.

We may see a lot of things that we want to do course corrections on and then we can feel a sense of failure for not meeting those, Cormier said. Take one or two and focus on those that you can do.

These may include deciding not to overload our calendars or setting time aside for children or significant others. Taking on too much can lead to the burden of unmet self-expectations. With the duress of ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, its important for people to be patient with themselves and take things one step at a time.

Simplification was a good thing that I think has happened, but keep it that way, Cormier said, pointing out the tendency of people to try to take on more than they can easily handle.

kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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Testing faith: Spirituality in the face of tragedy and COVID-19 in Nova Scotia - TheChronicleHerald.ca

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