Connecting to parishioners is essential for churches
As the pandemic has swept the globe, churches have adapted so that people can still get comfort from their faith.
“We run both a congregation and community ministries and an outreach ministry to women on the streets,” says Maj. Karen Hoeft of the Salvation Army Crossroads Community Church. “Our outreach van ministry actually has not run since March 10 because we can’t observe six-feet distance.”
They have moved their services online. “We put up songs, at the very beginning, daily. But now it’s two or three times a week,” Hoeft explains. They also upload sermons to Facebook on Sundays, and some of their groups gather on their parking pad to help parishioners feel less alone.
They’ve been able to keep their food-sharing pantry going, and, thanks to a recent government grant, are able to help a bit more. They deliver food to the homes of the immunocompromised.
Their summer camps were cancelled, but they came up with alternatives. “We’ve actually sent out activity bags to the children and teens since Easter. Every three weeks we send out an activity bag,” says Hoeft. The bags contain everything from garden seeds to kites to camp supplies.
The Salvation Army helps people and families in various ways, but they ask people to reach out to them.
“Essentially when lockdown came, we had to figure out how to go online in about a week,” says Aaron Au, co-pastor at Avenue Church. The church uses Zoom, and broadcasts on Facebook Live. “We’ve also had one outdoor service in July, at a farm.” They held a second one there in August.
They also experimented with evening gatherings. “Much smaller, much simpler, much shorter. Just trying to get creative in a time where it’s really hard to be together in person. And being a church, a lot of it is about being together,” explains Au.
To help with the disconnect, Au has been counselling parishioners over the phone. “When the weather’s been nice, we have been able to do a lot of backyard, socially distanced conversations as well,” he says. They have also partnered with St. Faith’s Anglican church, getting meals out to people. A lot of it, Au says, is finding out how they can partner with people and support what’s already happening.
Because they don’t have their own building, they use house churches, which are small groups that gather throughout Edmonton. House churches have allowed them to stay connected and help one another. “It’s cool to see how these house churches are gathering resources and coming together to meet needs and celebrate,” Au says.
Soon after the pandemic began, Bethel Gospel Chapel switched their services online.
Frank Parker, elder with the Bethel Gospel Chapel, explains,“We’ve met on Zoom for about 15 weeks. We also pre-recorded and published on YouTube.” They record a sermon and some songs every Saturday, and then put them on YouTube for Sunday morning.
Once stage 2 was announced, the restrictions eased off enough to allow them to start gathering, with proper protocols. But that doesn’t mean those who are immunocompromised are being left out.
“We’ve had to make special arrangements to check up on them to make sure that their needs are being met, and just being able to maintain a sense of community with them, with physical distancing,” says Parker. “We’ve actually tried hard not to use the term social distancing. We use physical distancing, but we feel people still need to be social,” Parker adds. “In fact, a little motto we had was: ‘Keep social, phone somebody every day.’ ”
Even with half of their people comfortable meeting again, they are still keeping up their Zoom presence.
Bethel Gospel Chapel also hosts a wholesale food buying club, where people can buy groceries in bulk from The Grocery People.
“We are trying to do what we can and look for the opportunities to serve people.”
Avenue Church: avenuechurch.ca
Salvation Army: salvationarmy.ca/alberta/abnt/contact
Bethel Gospel Chapel: (780) 477-3341
Featured Image: Aaron Au, co-pastor at Avenue Church, says the church has gone online and has also experimented with smaller, outdoor gatherings and shorter services. | Supplied