Knox United Church in Fernie is now home to several beautiful and inspiring chalk drawings. Soranne Floarea/The Free Press

Elk Valley churches adapt to changing social landscape

Several local churches have started hosting their services online via live stream

While congregations are no longer able to meet in person, churches in the Elk Valley have devised creative solutions to maintain their faith.

One of the ways Fernie’s Anglican Church and United Church are keeping their congregations together is through online worship. Following notification that their buildings were to be shuttered, Andrea Brennan, priest of Christ Church Anglican and minister of Knox United Church, asked her parishioners if they would be interested in transitioning their gatherings to a virtual format. After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, worshipers from both Christ Church Anglican and Knox United Church now meet on Zoom at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Anyone interested in joining the meetings can email either Christ Church or Knox United to receive an invitation.

Ultimately, the switch to online worship has allowed parishioners that have moved away, as well as friends of parishioners that have heard about the virtual gatherings, to join in. Brennan thus points to the way technology is currently providing a great opportunity for people to not only stay connected, but to continue worshiping together. Noticing the way digitalization has allowed more people to access church proceedings, she also noted that once the pandemic draws to an end, it is likely they will continue gathering electronically, as well as in person.

Another church who has switched to offering their services online is Mountainside Community Church. Having acquired a full television production studio prior to the pandemic, lead pastor Shawn Barden said they made a relatively easy transition to high resolution virtual delivery. At the moment, they broadcast their entire service on YouTube Live, receiving over 500 views per week. The videos are posted under their YouTube channel, Mountainside Community Church, as are links to countdowns for their live streams on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.

Though much of Mountainside Community Church’s other programming, such as their kids café and youth group have been cancelled due to restrictions, they continue to facilitate whatever meetings they can online.

“Church for us isn’t a time slot on Sunday, church for us is our community. The church isn’t an event, it’s a people. We are really missing our people. So we have been trying to do some creative things to include more faces in our service. For example, when we took communion last time we had everybody snap a selfie of them taking communion at home, and then on our closed Facebook page we posted all of the images, to show we are still virtually connected with other people out there,” said Barden.

Brennan is also keeping her parishioners together by sending out emails with the weekly worship notes as well as the sermon, while posting recordings of her sermons to Facebook for those unable to attend the live Zoom sessions. In order to accommodate those who do not have access to technology, Brennan has been leaving copies of her sermons in the mailbox at Christ Church for pick up.

To further support one another, parishioners have also established a phone tree, wherein members in both congregations call one another to ensure those living alone or without access to technology are staying happy and healthy. Despite all the changes, Brennan stressed that although her congregation cannot be together in person, they can still be together in heart and soul.

“There’s been a level of reengagement within the congregation and within the neighbourhood. I have recently invited people to come and pick up a piece of sidewalk chalk and draw on the churches, and the neighbours have started responding to that which is very cool,” said Brennan. “If you go by either of the churches, you’ll see chalk drawings on them. There’s a sun, there’s butterflies, there’s rainbows, there’s flowers. As people walk by, they see that though the building is closed, church is open and alive. We’ve said for generations that church isn’t the building, it’s the people that inhabit it, so as we can’t be in the building, we still want the buildings to look like there’s life.”

The Salvation Army Community Church is another church that was forced to close their doors due to the pandemic. According to Major Linda Green, due to many members of their congregation being older and lacking access to technology, they are keeping their congregation together by communicating over the phone and sending letters. To supplement those efforts, the Salvation Army has encouraged their parishioners to worship online through their virtual services and online publications whenever possible.

Holy Family Catholic Parish in Fernie, St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church in Elkford, and St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Sparwood have also faced numerous changes to their regular services due to the pandemic. Having a congregation consisting of many vulnerable members, they ceased all church services in March to ensure the utmost health and safety of their congregation.

After turning a spare room into a small studio to allow for better quality streamed services, they also transitioned to offering their worships online. To allow for the participation of their congregation in their online Mass, they have begun including cutaways into their service, where they cut to parishioners in their own homes as they lead singing, read prayers, ring the small bell that would normally be rung in church, or show drawn pictures.

According to Father David, parish priest of the aforementioned churches, the transition to online services has been successful, as many members of his congregation have supported the movement. Astoundingly, their online worships have even seen parishioners from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon, and as far as Britain, joining in. Seeing the benefit that online worship provides, David predicts that many other church services will continue to be offered online in the future, such as weddings, baptisms and funerals in order to allow more people to attend despite not being able to be there physically. At the moment, to assist with financial difficulties, the Holy Family Catholic Parish, St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church, and St. Michael’s Catholic Church are accepting donations via e-transfer.

“Obviously all the parishioners are longing for the day we can gather together again, and particularly for those who have lived in the area for a long time, they have a real emotional attachment to the church building and they long to be in their normal pew in church. And that day will come, but probably as we open up the churches again we will be encouraging a lot of our older parishioners, and those who are vulnerable in other ways, to stay at home and we will continue with the online streaming,” said David.

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