“Convenience Factor”: Regina Faith Groups Consider Making Virtual Services Permanent – Regina
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to online church services was a challenge for aging parishioners. But now, a year after the change began, many faith-based organizations are seeing the long-term benefits.
At 84, Margaret Roth’s computer skills were limited and she had never heard of Zoom before the pandemic.
In March 2020, Roth’s Church of Christ Lutheran switched to live-streamed online services on Facebook and YouTube.
Then came the need for Zoom.
“The most important thing was studying the Bible,” said Roth. “How could we get engaged?”
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Zoom gives parishioners the opportunity to discuss and learn in groups. But the technology for pandemics wasn’t exactly user-friendly at first, Roth said.
“(My pastor-in-training) made me do what I was supposed to do: write the instructions (Zoom), practice them, then the very important exam,” she said.
Now that Roth has mastered the program, she uses it not only for church meetings but also for college classes.
“I have taken a lot of classes (in person), but now they’re all virtual,” she said.
“Today, for example, I’m taking a course on Finland and another on Peter the Great.
While there are advantages to being able to attend class and church from the comfort of your own den, Roth said virtual meetings have their drawbacks.
“I miss hugging people, greeting them… these relationships,” she said.
“We would love to be back, but it’s not wise to be in church worshiping and singing right now.”
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Lutheran Christian pastor Dennis Hendricksen agrees that virtual services lack fellowship, but they seem to “meet the needs well enough.”
In fact, Christ Lutheran’s virtual viewership has increased three to four times that of his in-person attendance, according to Hendricksen, who represents around 600 views in a Sunday service.
“There’s that convenience factor,” he said.
“The parishioners have found that it is quite nice to have this weekly ritual, even if it means they are sitting in my living room with my laptop open having a cup of coffee.”
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Similar to Christ Lutheran, Rabbi Jeremy Parnes made the decision to close Beth Jacob Synagogue for in-person services at the start of the pandemic and has yet to reopen.
“With an older group and a certain level of nervousness, it seemed more appropriate to close the synagogue for now,” Parnes told Global News.
Instead, the closure meant switching to Zoom services, which proved to be a challenge for some older members of Regina’s Jewish community.
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“For some, this has been a pretty difficult process,” Parnes said.
“I think it has turned out that in a lot of cases, with their grandchildren nearby, they can take care of the technical stuff and help out where possible.”
Besides the technical difficulties, Parnes said a big challenge was to adapt Jewish services to work in an online format.
A typical Saturday service, Parnes said, can last two hours.
“You can only sit on a two-dimensional screen and a single seat for so long before it gets uncomfortable,” he said, adding that screen fatigue was a concern.
“We made a few adjustments to tighten things up a bit. The key is how to do it without losing the essential elements of the service and without feeling like you are broken.
However, the synagogue has managed to maintain its audience throughout the pandemic, according to Parnes, and at times to increase its audience.
People in British Columbia and as far away as Guatemala have switched to virtual services.
Rabbi Parnes said there may be an opportunity to expand synagogue audiences even after the pandemic has ended.
“I think more of Jewish families living in isolated communities where they don’t have a synagogue,” Parnes said.
“Can we accommodate them in the future by offering both online and in-person services where it’s more interactive that way? “
Parnes and Hendricksen both envision a hybrid model that would offer virtual and in-person services once places of worship reopen.
Until then, people like Roth are just grateful to have their faith, online or otherwise.
“It means the world to me,” Roth said.
“It’s like we have a big family and I see our church as a supportive family.”
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