On Easter Sunday, congregations from around Classis Chatham (a regional group of Christian Reformed churches) were welcomed to stream one collaborative worship service, created by pastors and ministry leaders of the various congregations. The classis-wide service was an extension of weekly sharing that has been taking place between five churches in and near Chatham, Ont., since the implementation of physical-distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
As public spaces began to close, churches needed to decide how to worship in this new reality. After officials banned gatherings of more than five people, Nate Van Denend, pastor of First CRC in Chatham called Myrna Panjer, clerk of council at Grace CRC, to suggest a solution. Grace CRC is currently without a pastor, and First CRC’s building did not have the technology to livestream, so Van Denend offered to lead a service at Grace CRC. “It seemed to be a win-win for both congregations,” said Panjer.
The next Sunday, Van Denend returned and was joined by some of Grace CRC’s musicians to lead worship—spaced across the platform for physical distancing. Within a week, Norman Visser, pastor of Calvary CRC, also in Chatham, and Tim Luimes, pastor of nearby Blenheim (Ont.) CRC were invited to join. Essex (Ont.) CRC, also without a pastor, then began to participate in the services, too.
Van Denend, Visser, and Luimes continue to meet biweekly, by video conferencing, with worship coordinators and Grace CRC’s audio-visual tech team. The services are live when possible, but to stay within the five-person gathering limit, they pre-record some elements of the service during the week, having members read and record scripture or songs from home. The pastors admit that it has been an adjustment preaching to an empty sanctuary and a camera, but congregants’ comments, by email or social media, have been encouraging. Visser is especially grateful for the people in tech support. “They've put in a lot of work and learned to use new editing software to make the services as seamless as possible.”
People with limited internet access can phone in to hear the service.
Van Denend notes that while online services can never replace the assembly of God’s people, there are blessings in how the churches have come together. “We've been able to hear from different ministers, pray for people in multiple congregations and, while we have no way of knowing, maybe some people are tuning in, as well, who wouldn't ordinarily come to church.”