Some Lethbridge churches amp up online Sunday services during COVID-19 crisis

Religious institutions are temporarily closed to the public as restrictions on mass gatherings have been put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta.

But that hasn’t stopped weekly Sunday services from taking place through online streaming.

Both the Evangelical Free Church of Lethbridge and MyVictory Church have been live streaming their services for a few years now. However, due to COVID-19, they’ve had to tailor the service for an audience that is entirely online now.

“It’s a big change for us, but it’s exciting too. We do consider that we used to be speaking to 200 to 400 people at a time and now we have an opportunity to speak to just individuals,” said Geoff Heth, the lead pastor at the E-free Church.

“So, we’ve had to change the format of what we’ve done. We used to have 30 to 35 minutes of just us speaking, but now we are breaking it up into segments,” Heth adds.

He goes on to say the church decided to break up the service so that the viewers would have a chance to talk about the material with their families, friends, or whoever they may be watching with at home.

Mike Dosso, the technical director at the church, has helped at least three other congregations in places as far away as Saskatchewan set up their online service. He said the churches reached out to him through a mutual contact or through Facebook groups.

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“It ranges a lot — either from setting up video switchers, projection software, and making all of that stuff play nicely,” he said. “There are a lot of churches out there that don’t have the personnel or the the equipment like we do.”

Dosso said since the church has already been live streaming their services for three years now, it didn’t take much to change things up for an audience that is strictly online now.

“We did move a lot of equipment around, we had to hang some lights, set up some sounds and video equipment, honestly it wasn’t a huge shift for us to move to a setup like this,” Dosso explained. “We’re really blessed to have the tech resources,” he said.

MyVictory church says its messages remain unchanged despite not being able to physically meet with fellow church goers.

“We’ve got five things we ask people to do: we ask them to attend, we ask them to connect, we ask them to serve, we ask them to give, and we ask them to invite,” said Ralph Molyneux, the pastor at MyVictory churches.

“It’s really not about our building at all; the building is just where we happen to meet… we can still do those things,” Molyneux said.

He added that during times of uncertainty and high anxiety, keeping faith and finding purpose both inside and outside the church can help people.

“We’ve been putting in a lot of effort to keep our congregation – which is in five different cities – now stay connected by setting up a Facebook group, Zoom… to keep everyone connected,” said Kelly Stickel, lead pastor at the MyVictory church.

Stickel said the church has never had to go through anything like this before, however, since the church has been livestreaming its services for the past five years, he said it was prepared for the technical challenges.

“We pre-recorded a bunch of the music beforehand, because we saw what was happening in Washington first, and then the rest of North America, we knew there were going to be restrictions on large people gathering,” he said.

Stickel said a lot of the content they pre-recorded involved many production staff having to gather together.

He adds that keeping people connected right now is the more challenging feat.

The two organizations have been teaming up with MyCityCare Lethbridge to help provide the distribution of food supplies, clothing, and other donations throughout the community.

The churches said they also want to help make sure seniors are receiving the extra care they need during this pandemic as many of them are undergoing long periods of self-isolation and physical distancing.

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