Amid closures, churches stay in touch

Church services and other functions at Bethel Pentecostal and other churches across Sarnia-Lambton have been suspended as a preventative measure. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Musicians tuned their instruments as a tech crew ensured the sound and lighting was just right at Sarnia’s Temple Baptist Church last weekend.

It was a normal church service in every way but for one: the pews were empty.

“This is a very unusual Sunday,” lead pastor Donald Calder told more than 200 households watching via Facebook live stream.

“I don’t think anyone living in Sarnia a couple weeks ago would have ever thought a virus in China would affect all of Southwestern Ontario.”

Much of the community has been shut down by the Covid-19 crisis. Municipal buildings are closed, businesses are following suit, and everything from weddings to hockey games are cancelled or postponed.

But some Sarnia church communities are using technology to keep the home fires burning.

“It’s interesting,” said Calder, who leads the bustling 900-member church on Quinn Drive. “We probably couldn’t have done this five or six years ago. And here we are, still being able to carry on things. We love to harness technology,”

The broadcast equipment had already been installed in the massive sanctuary, an investment made so members of the congregation who can’t leave home can continue enjoying Sunday service.

Pastors Glenn Ronson and Katherine Reyes speak to cameras in the nearly empty sanctuary at Sarnia’s Temple Baptist Church on March 15. Troy Shantz

But on March 15, families tuned in from all parts of Sarnia-Lambton, as well as Michigan, Florida, the Maritimes and B.C., Calder said.

Over at Dunlop United Church, the broadcast was more of a learning experience, said pastor Adam Kilner.

“We are new to streaming, having decided only in December that this was a good option for us going into the future,” he told the Journal.

Prior to the March 15 service, the church had only tested its live-streaming capabilities.

“For our first attempt we thought it went well.”

The congregation agreed, thanking church leaders for ensuring they could still participate in the service despite the restrictions on public gatherings and the need for social distancing.

Calder and other Temple Baptist leaders are also using their technology to “meet” with members and address another need — feelings of anxiety over the pandemic.

Even resisting the urge to shake hands is a challenge, he added.

“It just goes against my nature of being friendly,” he said. “We’re figuring it out as we go, because this is so new. This is so much bigger.”