Celebrating Easter during a pandemic presents challenges enough.
But Christian churches in Surrey are rising to the occasion.
“It’s preparing, and providing my church family with a new normal,” says Reverend Geof Jay, of St. Andrew’s-Newton Presbyterian Church on pastoring in these trying times. “Also, the coordination between still reaching out to the community and taking care of my church family.”
During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic the church’s bulletin board sign at the corner of 72nd Avenue and 124th Street has carried messages such as, “We can do this! Two metres apart, not six feet under. Keep loving thy neighbour,” and, “Love thy neighbour by washing your hands signs,” and, “Love thy neighbour, leave some toilet paper for others,” to name a few.
Social distancing means no more bedside visits in old folks’ homes. “No one has Corona, thank goodness, that we know,” Jay says. But he does work the phones. “Staying connected is really important.”
The Presbyterian church’s last service, before provincial health authorities began to make the case for social distancing in earnest, saw labels with names posted on the pews, keeping worshippers six feet apart. Roughly 30 people came.
Now, the worship services are done on Zoom, a remote videoconferencing service. After provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recommended faith communities should not meet in person, Jay said, “Right away I had to have a crash course in Zoom.”
— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) March 12, 2020
The church has had two Zoom-assisted worship services so far, since March 29th. “I had lots of technical glitches. I’ve been on the phone for two weeks with everybody, because I had to teach everybody how to use Zoom. I mean, hours. I felt like the Zoom helpline. I did it because I love my congregation, right?”
Reverend Geof Jay. (Photo: Olivia R. Jay)
About 60 households logged on for the first 10:30 a.m. Sunday service, Jay said, “which was a miracle.
“I wanted to make sure everybody feels like they’re at church. I set up a table in the middle aisle, and use a cardboard box to make it higher, then I put my laptop on. You can see the stained glass windows behind me so it looks like you’re in church.” The organist is there, and members of the congregation who are logged on sing hymns together over Zoom, and read scripture. “We try to make it realistic. It’s like nothing has really changed, except they’re at home.”
“I have 90 per cent of my congregation online. People responded.” Others join by phone.
For communion, Jay asks members to prepare their own bread and grape juice, whatever they like. “At our church we have grape juice because we’re concerned about alcohol. We actually have a AA meeting at our church, so we have to be onside, you know, let’s not do that.”
“On Easter Sunday, will be celebrating the Lord’s supper online. You need to make part of your house your sanctuary, you make it as holy as possible, because this is our time with God. I urge them to do that,” Jay said. “In a strange way, it’s almost more intimate.”
“I’m sure a lot of other churches are doing it too. Basically, this is the new normal,” he said.
Easter is the big ticket item in Christianity, even more-so than Christmas.
What relevance does it have in the pandemic?
“It’s the story of hope,” Jay explained, “it’s the story of life, of eternal life. It’s so important to have hope, and with that hope in Jesus who died on the cross on Good Friday and rose from the dead on Easter. We are supposed to be a beacon of light, we are people that need to serve our community, we need to watch out for our neighbours.”
Pastor Kevin Cavanaugh, who leads Cedar Grove Baptist Church at 10330 144 st., has been live-streaming his church’s worship services during the pandemic and will do so on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This church got a bit of a jump on the pandemic, Cavanaugh said, as their “IT guy” was already working on creating a church app for Cedar Grove before the virus hit our shores. God works in mysterious ways, as they say.
“Our online attendance has grown substantial,” Cavanaugh told the Now-Leader. “It’s a little hard to determine because it’s based on IP addresses but it has likely doubled if not tripled and we have such a faith-filled group of Christ-followers that our online giving has been so encouraging.”
Cedar Grove also has a “toilet paper ministry.” Three weeks ago, it began asking people if they would be willing to give a couple of rolls for the church to give away to people in need. Hundreds have come in, Cavanaugh said, and have been given out. Also, he said, there are “some gals in our church who have sewed 160 surgical protective hats” to help the fight to stop this deadly virus from spreading.
Cedar Grove’s Good Friday and Easter Sunday services will be live-streamed from the church.
Both services will begin at 10 a.m. featuring communion, live worship, “the whole thing.” Like St. Andrews, Cedar Grove is encouraging its congregation to prepare their own crackers, bread and juice.
Meantime, the church has for a few weeks now been hosting nightly prayer sessions on Zoom. “We’ve been praying up a storm,” Cavanaugh says. These are held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and start at 4 p.m. weekends.
They pray for the larger community, and for some closer to home. One of their local missionaries is in hospital on a ventilator.
“We’ve been seeing small and steady changes,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re grateful for the medical system and we’re grateful for a God who answers prayer.”