Adapting to new realities

MORRISBURG – Many traditional institutions have been forced to change in response to the closures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Churches were among the first to be forced to close their doors to the public temporarily as health officials began to limit the size of public gatherings.

The closure could not come at a busier time than Lent, and the Easter holidays. Parish churches who were not already doing so, have had to move to technology for greater outreach – physically distanced – to reach parishioners.

“We started broadcasting Sunday services online,” said Reverend Jon Martin, parish priest for the Anglican Parish of South Dundas. “But we were playing a bit of catch up.”

Martin held the church’s first online worship on March 15 on the social media platform Facebook from the church’s rectory and has been broadcasting services each week since.

“I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of folks who are willing to check it out,” Martin told The Leader. “We have a high attendance rate of our regular parishioners who are tuning in online.”

He said that there have been large number of people from the broader South Dundas area, Ottawa area, and even viewers from out of the province and internationally.

St. James is one of the first Anglican churches in the region to begin live-streaming their services. Martin said he, and other Anglican priests in the diocese have been collaborating to get other churches broadcasting. Trinity Anglican Church in Cornwall began its online broadcasts April 5th for Palm Sunday.

“We’ve all never done this before,” Martin said. “But it’s kind of fun.”

Martin said that some parts of the Anglican Church community have been trying to make church more accessible, and that responding to the pandemic has pushed them to do that.

He said that going online has been a benefit because it has become a safe place to lead people into services, where newcomers may not know or be afraid to ask questions. During each service, Martin takes questions that were posted to the Facebook page and explains some of the basics of why and how certain things are done.

Martin said that local church leadership is supportive of continuing the momentum they have received being online with its church services after the pandemic restrictions on gathering have been lifted.

“We are looking at getting things in place long-term to offer a decent quality experience for those who view services online.”

The change to services due to the pandemic restrictions has also affected how the parish approaches community outreach. The South Dundas Anglican Parish operates programs like Martha’s Kitchen and Martha’s Closet through its Apple Tree Ministry.

“We couldn’t gather anymore, so we’ve adapted what we’re doing,”

Martin explained that instead of having Martha’s Kitchen in the church where people would gather for a meal, volunteers are now helping others by delivering groceries to those who are uncomfortable with going out, or are unable to.

“We’re not asking people to come and eat in our church, we’re bringing things like food and toilet paper and other supplies to people,” he said. “You don’t get the fun of sitting around the table talking to people, but we are still making sure people are looked after.”

Asked if he has seen an increased need in the community these past few weeks, Martin said yes and no.

“Seeing it through the old lens, we’re not making lunch for 50 people a week in the church,” he said. “But we have people who have to quarantine for two weeks and need all these groceries.”

Martin said what is being noticed in the parish is that the members in the church community have stepped up, some who have never done so before.

“They are the ones who will say that they haven’t heard from a certain person in a while, and will reach out.”

Martin explained that the community outreach has come alongside the pastoral care aspect of ministry.

“Members are really good to think of who may not be on the radar. Who hasn’t been heard from? Does someone need anything?”

He said that one of the benefits of this rapid adjustment in ministry is that in a short period of time the traditional model of church has changed.

“We’ve gone from a model of church where it is assumed that the priest and a small group of people do 80 per cent of the work. It’s now switched to where I’d say 80 per cent of the church is doing 100 per cent of the work, because they have made a switch to where they say we are all responsible for looking after one another and we’re all going to do our part.”

The changes due to the pandemic have also affected fundraising. The parish now accepts e-transfers as there is no collection plate during services for example. Last week, the Ottawa Diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada, which the South Dundas parish is part of, announced it was relieving financial obligations for parishes for April and May while there is so much transition ongoing.

“The goal is to redirect those funds into the needs within each parish,” Martin said.

The mission of the church however is still to connect with people in the community.

“I want people to know that I get they are at their family kitchen table on a Sunday morning for breakfast, or being with their loved ones is just as a sacred as going to a church. If we can find a way to meet together, then that is fantastic.”

Online services for the South Dundas Anglican Parish are available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/southdundasanglicans

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