Guidelines for worship in Saskatchewan have limited the number of individuals who can attend a service through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each church has had to adapt and adhere to the new guidelines, which includes a maximum gathering size of 30 per cent of capacity, up to 150, while finding new ways to provide its services to its congregation.
Moosomin Baptist Church took the opportunity through COVID-19 to upgrade its technology to provide its followers with services even through the restrictions.
Pastor Jonathon Shierman joined the church in May 2020 and has had to adapt and overcome the ongoing regulations.
“It has completely changed the way we approach almost everything we do. By its very nature, church ministry is meant to be relational and it is at its best when it is in person and done in the community. Trying to balance that with trying to preserve the sanctity of life, which is also something we stand strongly for, its been a great challenge. I am so grateful for technology, it is not a perfect substitute, but it has allowed us to keep some things going, obviously, with a church of our nature we sit at about 100 to 120 on a Sunday morning, we have not been able to have those kinds of numbers, even for regular service. It’s impacted our children’s ministries, it’s impacted our youth ministries, things like that. The biggest challenge has been adapting to the ever-changing rules. The guidelines keep moving and I’m aware of why. I’m supportive of why. We need to keep adapting to things, but it takes churches a couple of weeks to figure out how we’re going to adapt our ministries to new rules. Every time we feel that we’ve figured it out, the rules change on us again. I understand that, but it’s by far been the biggest challenge,” said Shierman.
According to Shierman, the church had been working on upgrading its technology since before COVID-19, and the pandemic only proved to accelerate that process.
“We’ve invested pretty heavily in technology. It is something that we were hoping to do pre-pandemic anyway. With me coming here at the beginning of May, it was something that we had talked about during my hiring process. The pandemic has really accelerated that. We have gone to live streaming our services, I’ve had to take a crash course in learning how to video stuff and edit clips, they don’t really teach you that in Seminary, but it’s something that I think every pastor has had to learn,” said Shierman. “Even the practical side has presented challenges. When I got here, the internet here at the church was not sufficiently fast enough for us to do live streaming. We had to upgrade our internet and get some fiber optic installed. The changes we’ve had to make are not as simple as flipping a switch, even if we wanted to. We’ve had to invest in cameras, we got some great camera technology and sound equipment. Those kinds of things take time to get and learn.
Senior members of the church have had how-to packages put together by members of the church to ensure they could access the materials. The church also provided their younger members packages in the absence of their youth ministries.
“We’ve had to restrict our children’s ministries and we’re doing that remotely now with stuff through video and YouTube and putting packages together for children to do at home with their families. We’ve had to get creative, but it’s thanks to the technology that we’ve been able to do this at all.”
Shierman explained that they have also offered to copy their services on CDs or USB drives to provide to those without internet, but it has been something that nobody has utilized yet.
“One of the great things about a church like ours is that the people rally around each other. So for the people who are more remote and don’t necessarily have fast internet or any internet at all, they have people around them helping them get it and get it set up.”
Before the pandemic struck, Moosomin Baptist Church had set up e-transfers for donations, which proved useful when restrictions started limiting the number of people who could attend services.
Shierman says that thanks to this, they have been able to still receive their usual donations.
“We adapted very quickly, it was one of those things that was overdue and the pandemic just sped up our approach. Before I got here, they moved to online giving and e-transfers and people have really rallied around that. People really appreciate the simplicity of it, if I’m being honest. It even streamlines things on our end for our church and our treasurer and finance team. We still have a few people who still like giving a cheque, which is great, but of course, we can’t hand around an offering plate,” Shierman explained. “Our church is entirely funded through regular giving by our churchgoers. It goes towards everything from keeping the lights on to paying staff to all the investments into technology that we’ve done. We’ve been very fortunate as a church. Our giving has remained fairly consistent throughout the pandemic. There have been some dips and challenges, but nothing like what I’m hearing a lot of other churches are going through. We’ve had some huge unexpected expenses in certain areas because of the pandemic, but most of that has fortunately been offset because of savings in other areas because of the pandemic. By not being able to run things in person, the silver lining is you save on some of those costs and are able to reallocate money elsewhere.”
Moving forward, Shierman says that Moosomin Baptist Church has plans to continue their live streams and online content, but are looking forward to a return to normal.
“This is something that had been talked about since anybody even heard of COVID-19, going to a digital format and offering things in different formats is something we discussed when I was hired. It’s not going anywhere. Certain things we’re doing I can’t wait to get rid of, things like making our churchgoers RSVP ahead of time, that is just a practical necessity, but I am looking forward to the day when we no longer have to do that. But things like streaming the service on Sunday morning for people who can’t be here in person? That’s not going anywhere. We invested in this technology knowing that we would continue to use this long-term.”
Rob Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator