For Sue Taylor, the first days of the COVID-19 lockdown were like going from the familiar to the unknown. With only a laptop, which was not made to record church services, propped on a music stand on a chair, she recorded the Rev. Terry Bennett delivering a sermon at Trinity, Barrie to give parishioners a sense of the familiar.
“It wasn’t professional at all, but we were making it work,” Ms. Taylor says.
She emailed the recorded sermon to parishioners, and the response was almost immediate. “Everyone was so grateful to feel connected to their church family again. I wanted to offer them more. I wanted to offer them a little bit of home.”
With that encouragement, she got fancier. She downloaded a free video editing software and started adding in music and readings to make it as close to the experience of an in-person church service as possible. “This way, they can see the stained glass and hear the old organ in the church.”
Trinity, Barrie is just one of many churches across the diocese that have adjusted to delivering online worship services during the pandemic.
In downtown Toronto on a typical Sunday morning, as parishioners of St. Matthias, Bellwoods, attend the service, they all say hello to each other and greet one another with a friendly smile or a wave. The service is about to begin, but rather than sitting in pews facing the altar, they’re all sitting at home facing a computer on a Zoom call – including the Rev. Canon Joyce Barnett.
With items from the church, Canon Barnett has converted her dining room table into a makeshift altar. While Sunday morning service in the Anglo-Catholic parish would run 75-90 minutes, on Zoom they are less than an hour, accommodating parishioners’ virtual attention spans. But around 30 parishioners join the call every week.
“It’s really been lovely to use Zoom and it feels like a gathered community,” she says.
To support these and other churches, the diocese is handing out grants of up to $5,000. The Reach More Grants, as they are called, are helping churches upgrade their capabilities to deliver services online. This will be even more important with churches reopening for public worship and some parishioners may not be able to worship in person, says Elizabeth McCaffrey, the diocese’s Volunteer Resources Coordinator.
“That’s the biggest hurdle. How do we broadcast beyond our walls?” she says.
To apply for the grants, parishes must submit a two- to three-page proposal with a fully costed budget that is supported by their area bishop. They are given a time slot to make a pitch to a panel of five people. Since it’s an expedited process, successful pitches are approved within a day, and the money is out the door within five business days.
That’s exactly the process that St. Matthias went through. After a successful pitch, it is now using the grant to upgrade its sound system, Internet connection, and broadcasting capabilities. As some, but not all, parishioners re-enter its church building for public worship, the equipment will be key to integrating the in-person and online experiences.
“We’re looking to broaden the gathering and maintain community connections,” Canon Barnett says.
The church will start posting its services on its website and on YouTube to reach more people who may be curious about Church but aren’t ready to step into the building. The recorded services will allow people to experience a worship service online before coming to the church in person, says Mario Bartolozzi, a Diocesan Tech Volunteer and parishioner who also pitched the proposal to the Reach More Grants panel.
“Going forward, this is going to be an asset to attract new people,” he says.
The grant will also help them expand their outreach ministry. Outreach events such as Saturdays at St. Matthias, an art show, and History Coming Out, an outreach event for parishioners to share their experiences of being LGBTQ2S+ in the Church, attracted 45 people in person, but with online tools, they expect to reach over 100 people, Mr. Bartolozzi says.
“If we use this correctly, we’ll be able to punch above our weight,” he says.
At Trinity, Barrie, Ms. Taylor’s recorded services are also reaching more people. She now uploads the weekly recorded services to the church’s new YouTube channel that reaches 150-200 people per week, up from their 75 weekly parishioners before the pandemic.
That broader reach has helped the parish raise $4,850 from parishioners, and receive a $5,000 Reach More Grant. “They have just seen attendance explode online. It’s brought more life to the parish,” says Ms. McCaffrey, who hosts the grant panel meetings. “They really built something out of nothing.”
To grow even more, the grant will allow the parish to get a new computer, camera, microphones and lights to improve the quality of the recorded services. Continuing and improving the recordings is important to providing worship services to parishioners who may not feel comfortable returning to church buildings for public worship, Ms. Taylor says.
“It’s been a wonderful thing to be able to serve the people of Trinity, Barrie in this way,” she says. “It has allowed us to have a new ministry and the Reach More Grant has allowed us to do that.”