Moosomin church adapts to Covid-19 by going online

·5 min read

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethel United Church in Moosomin has seen a dip in donations but has kept their congregation safe by utilizing the Zoom platform for services after the government imposed maximum sizes of in-person congregations.

Churches are currently limited to 30 per cent of their capacity, to a limit of 150 people.

Rev. Carolyn Woodall, the interim pastor for the Bethel United Church, says the move to the online platform was a difficult one to make.

“It’s been quite a radical shift for us to move online. Our Sunday morning worship is now a Zoom gathering, so we are present with each other in the zoom windows. Doing that means that people can adjust their own volume and we can see one another’s faces, our smiles because we don’t have to wear masks. We did open for in-person worship for a while in the fall until things got pretty bad again at the end of November. And it was lovely to be together again in the worship space, except that we had to maintain distance, we had to wear masks, people couldn’t linger to do any visiting. So that was challenging. It’s sort of both, the joy of being together and yet we’re not together in a way we’re used to being together. We also made a decision, we have a committee in the congregation that we call the Re-Opening Committee that has reviewed the information that we’ve had from the provincial health authorities as well as our regional church authorities, and we made the decision that even when we were in person, we would not be singing, even using masks. And I continued, as a worship leader, to keep masks on,” Woodall said.

She says that while the change to the online platform had some difficulties, they did it for their congregation which has at-risk individuals in attendance.

“Our congregation has a number of older folks who have susceptibility because of their age or pre-existing conditions and we have a group of people who work in parts of the community where they are interacting with people who might be more susceptible to COVID-19 where there’s a lot of bubbles coming together. Those people really felt like they didn’t want to cause a risk to the older folks in the congregation,” Woodall said. “Having Zoom worship means those people can participate, having in-person means they can’t, but then having Zoom worship means some of the older folk can’t participate because they don’t know how, but where they live just doesn’t have that strong of internet.”

To help minimize contact, the Bethel United Church provides all its materials to its congregation through digital means.

“We’re trying hard to stay connected with one another, we do our meetings, we have our bible study, we have our fellowship together one morning a week as well as our Sunday worship and it’s all on Zoom. In addition to that, all of our tools we use for worship get sent by Email.”

For those without email or internet, Woodall explained that they set up a buddy system when they moved to their online platform. Using this system, an individual who could access the internet would print off the materials and supply them to the members who couldn’t access them.

Financially, however, Bethel United Church has seen a drop in donations since the start of COVID-19. Like most other churches, donations fund a large part of their operations and help keep their doors open to the public.

“We have what you’d call a bit of a dip, but many many people in the congregation have been quite faithful in sending their offerings in various ways. In the United Church of Canada, we do have a remittance program, and that’s administered by our national church. Some of the people in our congregation are signed up for that program and so their offering is taken right out of their bank account by their authority, then the amounts of that are sent to our congregation each month.”

Woodall attributed the dip in funds to the congregation waiting to donate once they could return to in-person services. While they were able to return to these services briefly, Woodall says they returned to Zoom meetings shortly after when COVID-19 cases began to rise.

While the shift to an online platform was a difficult one to make, Woodall believes that it will stick around even after the pandemic saying the pandemic only proved to accelerate these advancements.

“I think the reality is there’s going to need to be an online presence for any congregation that intends to have an ongoing life. What it may be is a kind of hybrid where there’s an in-person service that’s streamed or recorded for others to participate in at the moment or later. There have been video conversations or things posted by some of the churches in the United Church that have found a really powerful way to be together and supportive of one another and I don’t see that ending. All the ministers across the province of Saskatchewan have an opportunity to be together every week on a Tuesday afternoon. And that’s possible because of the internet. I don’t see us going back.”

Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator