Edmonton-area churches hope to bounce back from pandemic challenges – Edmonton

There is a lot more space in the pews of many Edmonton-area churches these days, as many have not resumed in-person services.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton represents 122 parishes and missions and celebrates Mass in 16 languages, but attendance at these Masses is not what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Father Jim Corrigan estimates that only about 60% of congregations have returned to in-person services.

« If we used to have 600 to 700 people here for a Sunday celebration, maybe our number is more like 400 right now, » he said.

“Are we ever going to get back to where we were? I am not sure. »

Corrigan, the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Sherwood Park, Alta., thinks people’s routines have changed when they’ve been home more during the pandemic.

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“It’s easy to kick a habit once you’re done with it. Difficult to return to the grove, ”he explained.

With fewer people sitting in the pews, donations are also down.

“It certainly had a negative impact on the resources available to our parishes and their extension to the archdiocese,” Corrigan said.

But he added that income did not drop along with parishioners, as many continued to give without being able to attend mass.

Catholic churches have also tried to make changes to make up for the shortfall.

“I think every parish has made changes to their employees and staff — to downsize,” Corrigan said. « So while revenue may not be what it used to be, expenses may not be quite what it used to be either. »

But he notes there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, and that’s the shift to live-streaming services.

« One thing we’ve learned is that even before COVID there were people who couldn’t be at Mass: older people, health challenged, mobility challenged “, said Corrigan.

« We continue to broadcast live and hope that those who can come to Mass will eventually be inspired to do so. »

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The church tries to appeal to people on platforms that resonate with them.

“We definitely use social media: Facebook and websites, Snapchat — whatever we can to market who we are,” Corrigan said.

READ MORE: How COVID could forever change religion in Canada: ‘There’s no turning back’

The Christmas services gave hope that people might return soon.

“Our 4 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass was packed like the good old days,” Corrigan said. « It was a happy moment. »

But he believes that for congregations to grow every Sunday, they must be welcoming and make people feel at home.

« It’s a sincere and open invitation to come, » Corrigan said.

« We miss you and Jesus would love to see you visit him one more time. »

At Grace Lutheran Church in the Oliver neighborhood of Edmonton, the faith community has existed for nearly a century. Services have been held in the current building since the 1950s, but the pandemic has hit the church hard.

Eric Decorby is the executive director of Grace Lutheran Church.

« We didn’t have much, numerically, » he said. « So within a week, that required us to set up our livestream and get everyone to attend the services online. »

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Like Catholic churches, Grace Lutheran still broadcasts her services live today.

In person, the church also remains COVID aware: bottles of hand sanitizer are strategically positioned at the entrance.

“People are encouraged to wear masks if they wish,” Decorby said. “We have implemented additional cleaning. We really try to make it as safe as possible. »

But the impacts of previous public health restrictions are still being felt every Sunday.

“Before the pandemic, we averaged 200 people a week,” Decorby said. “We had three services: two in English and one in Nuer for our Sudanese congregation.

« Now we average 80-100 people a Sunday in our services, and then probably 50-80 watching online. »

The decline in attendance has seen the church lose a pastor, as well as one mass per week.

Grace Lutheran currently shares her large building with various community groups, including the Oliver Community League and Narcotics Anonymous.

“It would be great if people came to the building for something else and then realized it would be a great place for them to come for services,” Decorby said.

He added that he was unsure how to change things, but was trying to rebuild activities for children and young people.

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“Maybe the church as it was for the past 100 years is a little different now. We can still be effective and do good things, but the way they do them might have to change a little.

Evolve Church has doubled its congregation during the pandemic.

Sarah Ryan/Global News

However, at least one local church is bucking the trend. Evolve got its start just before the pandemic, hosting services in The Rec Room at South Edmonton Common.

Evolve offers a contemporary celebration of Christianity.

« I would say we’re a living room and not a rock show, » senior pastor Jono Zantingh said.

He says his congregation has doubled to between 500 and 600 congregants.

« We were kind of caught off guard, everyone just brings friends and family, » Zantingh said with a smile.

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He attributes this success to offering hope and kindness when people needed it most.

« You come out of the darkness of the last two years and there’s this void of relationship, void of community, void of real meaningful friendships, » Zantingh said. “And I think the church has the opportunity to meet that need.

“Our people aren’t just friendly, they’re ready to be friends. There is a big difference, I think.

But when the pandemic shuttered businesses like The Rec Room, Evolve lost its home.

Zantingh eventually rented a warehouse for live streaming services and eventually rented the church’s current home in South Edmonton’s Research Park.

When only small groups were allowed to worship, Evolve held intimate micro-Masses — seven or eight of them every Sunday.

« It was literally 15 people, right in the middle of that room, » Zantingh recalls.

“We just sat in a circle and we prayed together and opened the scriptures together, talked about what was going on in people’s hearts and minds. We have addressed fear and we have addressed anxiety.

He says these tight-knit services have attracted a number of families, including some who didn’t have a religious community before the pandemic.

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“The beautiful and overwhelming response comes from people who are new to the faith,” Zantingh said.

« (These people) say, ‘This is life changing, this is the hope I was desperately looking for, this is the community I was looking for, this is the family I didn’t think was possible.’ This piece earned all the pivots.

Zantingh says he hopes Evolve is a space where people also feel comfortable asking questions about faith.

And just like other churches, Evolve also has members who continue to attend services virtually. Zantingh hopes that over time everyone will feel comfortable coming back in person.


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