Evolving the Church Service in the Time of Covid

by Bianca Schmutz
Categories: Divisional News
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Moving is stressful at the best of times. But moving during a pandemic, with children, to a new city is even more trying. For Majors Michael and Carolyn Simpson, Officers at The Salvation Army Church in Peterborough, and their four children, the Covid-19 crisis, lockdowns and social distancing has increased the challenge. The Simpsons relocated to Peterborough from Cobourg last August just prior to the start of a new school year. Major Carolyn smiles when talking about the move. “We moved under really odd circumstances,” she acknowledges. While they knew the community, they did not know the congregation and were not familiar with staff or the inner workings of the church. In-person visits with the church community during the warmer summer months of 2020 were replaced with distanced porch visits, Zoom calls and phone conversations in the fall. Major Carolyn said the congregation did what they could to help ease the transition for the Simpsons, such as one individual who created an album of photos, names and addresses to allow them to put faces to names. When the family arrived in Peterborough, the physical church had been closed for five months, and because of the lockdown, the Simpsons still have yet to lead an in-person service. Instead, they are relying on the use of technology to spread the word and deliver uplifting messages of hope and positivity at a time when everyone is looking to be connected and part of something greater than themselves. Major Carolyn explained that at first the technology was overwhelming and there was little time to learn it well.

The solution? Majors Michael and Carolyn turned to their tech-savvy 15-year-old son, Matthew, who had offered to help. Using his own iPad and iMovie, Matthew has been completing his high school volunteer hours by producing and editing church services using pre-recorded elements consisting of music, scripture readings, children’s stories, sermons, and testimonies. The services are available weekly on the church’s YouTube channel. It is a coordinated effort, involving many people and the process itself is quite unifying. Major Carolyn says, “We really needed to have a service. The music, the worship and the community experience were greatly missed.” The Simpsons have had positive feedback from members about the addition of this service and even have people viewing who did not attend the church before.

Regular mailed newsletters have replaced the Sunday church bulletins so those without access to computers or email can access a devotional thought, prayer requests, and church news. “We knew that even if we sent out regular emails, those people that had no access to tech were totally isolated from the church,” says Major Carolyn. “It would be like we didn’t exist.” A group of volunteers is committed to calling members of the church to check in, make sure they are doing alright, and see if they require additional support. Every Sunday, the Simpsons hold a Coffee Time Zoom session usually attended by 12-15 members of the congregation. A private Facebook group was also started to increase a sense of community. Members share their Biblical questions and insights, encouragements, and celebrations. Further information pertaining to Sunday sermon topics is shared on Mondays, and members can join in daily devotions.

When the pandemic is under control, Carolyn says they are exploring ways to maintain their online presence by combining in-person and virtual services or by recording or livestreaming the service. “It’s been a good year in many senses,” says Carolyn, “but a really challenging year too. God continues to amaze us in the ways he has used these difficult circumstances to bring people together. We will get through this, we just have to keep looking up.”

 

By Chris McGregor