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Churches Continue to Connect Without Gathering

Churches Continue to Connect Without Gathering
Pastor C.J. den Dulk in the empty sanctuary of Trinity CRC in Sparta, Mich.

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases, churches are getting creative in order to stay connected during the pandemic. Adapting to online solutions is new for many congregations. A 2019 LifeWay Research study of 1,000 Protestant pastors found that “41% of pastors do not put any portion of the service online.” Although 52% post the sermon after the service, only 30% reported having access to any livestreaming capabilities.

Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Sparta, Mich., found the $10,000 price for livestreaming prohibitive. Instead, Pastor C.J. den Dulk is recording and uploading a sermon and prayer to YouTube. For households without Internet, Trinity is delivering CD recordings. Gospel Project, their Sunday school curriculum, has made their content available online while den Dulk writes a daily devotional email. “We need to balance the call of Romans 13 (submission to governing authorities) while remembering that our only hope is in Jesus and this is an opportunity to witness to the world,” said den Dulk.

“There is a true concern for the elderly among us and their well-being,” said Jeff Dykstra, a serving elder at Trinity. “The virus has created opportunities for us to love and serve each other in ways that perhaps we’ve neglected because of busy schedules,” Dykstra added.

Near Vancouver, B.C., Pastor Tim Sheridan of Maple Ridge CRC said he invited his congregation to “reimagine the essential expression of the church.” He’s asked members who live together, whether in a family or residents in the same building, to imagine themselves as a mini household church for now. Every Friday, he’s recording and uploading a service to YouTube for families to watch together. While lacking technology to record worship, Sheridan shares a sermon and prayer. “The big thing we’re trying to do is provide connection and guidance for these unprecedented times,” said Sheridan, who will also upload mini-reflection clips throughout the week.

The Maple Ridge church is also calling on families to adopt “vulnerable and isolated people,” whom they’re calling VIPs. Families will phone their VIP to determine their needs, which might vary from grocery delivery to making sermons accessible for those without Internet connection. Ninety-four-year-old Corry de Haan said during this pandemic, she and other older people are “learning to accept help for things we’d rather do on our own.” Self-isolation is making it feel as though “the days are even longer now,” de Haan said. “(A) phone call once in a while is really nice.”

Brighton Fellowship CRC faces a unique challenge as their rural Ontario church sits above Presqui’le Provincial Park. Those living in the park can only access a low-quality, high-priced wireless internet. “When we retired here, my wife Margaret and I chose data on our phones instead,” said Ron Rupke, park resident and church elder. “We are thinking about getting wireless now,” Rupke added, as they cannot watch the church’s sermons at this time.

Some pastors have been helping each other navigate this unfamiliar terrain. Pastor Aaron Thompson at Community CRC in Dixon’s Corners, Ont., knew neighboring pastor Ken Gehrels from Kemptville (Ont.) CRC had a pre-recorded sermon series ready to go, so when their guest speaker was not able to preach March 15 because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Thompson asked if Community CRC could use it. Gehrels, who is recovering from cancer treatments, had recorded his Secure in the Storm series as a way to minister to his congregation during his illness. “It’s a tale of churches in this Classis working to support each other,” said Gehrels. “Pastors from Dixon’s Corners and Williamsburg CRC gifted us with their Sundays off and preached here at Kemptville when we were struggling after my diagnosis. We are on the same team and serving the same purpose.” Those congregations are all member churches of Classis Eastern Canada, a regional group of CRC congregations.

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