From corona-cation kits to living room church, religious groups across the Northwest Territories are finding new ways to connect during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Religious services can provide a sense of community, connection, and spiritual renewal, but physical distancing measures and gathering bans have made that a challenge.
Many of those services are turning to the internet.
The congregation at Fort Smith Pentecostal Church last gathered in person on March 15. Since then, lead pastor Hailey Armoogan has delivered live Sunday-morning sermons from her home using video-conferencing website Zoom and Facebook.
She calls it Living Room Church.
“You have to pivot pretty fast to change everything to online,” she said, adding the church has other gatherings, activities, and programs beyond Sunday services.
“To try to turn everything online within seven days is… there’s a lot involved.”
Armoogan believes gathering as a faith community is especially important during times of crisis. She has noticed people who don’t usually attend church are watching the online services and asking questions.
“People are really looking for some hope, and they’re really looking for encouragement, and they’re really looking for a bit of a calm in the storm,” she said.
“We’re going to have to find a new normal. It’s really easy to wish away the day that we’re in, [but] there’s still living to be done and things to be learned.”
Fort Smith Pentecostal Church is seen in a photo uploaded to Facebook.
Armoogan sometimes finds delivering a service tricky without live interaction, but tries to leave space for kids to respond to questions. The Zoom chat has a host who greets people when they join and shares relevant photos and links during the service.
Not everyone has access to the internet, so Armoogan has begun making what she calls corona-cation kits – so named “because we’re all corona-cationing.”
These are bags with hard-copy resources, activities, crafts, and summaries of the online services. Armoogan leaves them on people’s doorsteps.
The next problem to figure out is collecting the weekly donations upon which the church relies. Armoogan is working on alternatives but acknowledges donating at all could be a challenge for those who either don’t bank online or have been laid off during the pandemic.
A time ‘to be innovative’
At Holy Trinity Anglican Church, in Yellowknife, Rev Bryan Haigh has been broadcasting a Sunday sermon live on Facebook and uploading bible studies, hymnals, and other resources to the church website.
“It’s a time for us to be innovative and it’s a time for us to consider what is most important,” he said.
Online services aren’t new at the church. Before there was a public health emergency, the services were webcast as several Anglican churches in the North don’t currently have ministers.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Yellowknife. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
“They seem to have been quite popular, not only here in the North but further afield as well,” Haigh said.
The reverend tries to catch up with people on an individual basis, at a distance. He acknowledges occasions like communion, baptisms, and funerals are more difficult.
At a recent funeral, only a few people were able to attend at the graveside – keeping a two-metre distance between them.
“It is a bit different,” Haigh said. “It’s less intimate, less personal. But it’s the best we can do under the circumstances.”
‘It doesn’t matter what faith we have’
Yellowknife’s Muslim community has stopped gathering in person to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, said people are praying at home and sharing online resources.
“It is a huge challenge because … we congregate five times daily and we are used to that,” he said.
“It is very difficult but when you are fighting a pandemic that is a necessity. You have to do that, there’s no other option.”
Awan said his community is reaching out to those in Yellowknife who need support during the public health emergency.
“We are together in this,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what faith we have, we should help each other.”