News Story

Virtual Church During Global Pandemic

Pandemic sparks creativity as congregations look for ways to remain connected

“It’s time for Zoom church.” This is the phone call Arta Johnson has received each Sunday morning since the COVID-19 pandemic closed buildings belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March. Johnson, who lives in Alberta, virtually connects with her daughter’s family in Montreal to participate in a weekly home-church meeting. She gathers with other family and friends online to discuss faith and learn from each other. Johnson notes, “Families who were once far away and distant are right there together on the computer — this time, having church. In a way, the pandemic is pushing boundaries to help us find a more intimate spiritual space at home.”

Religious worship may have changed somewhat since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, but connecting with God and others continues despite the closure of Church buildings.

As Church services begin to reopen across the country, here are some creative and innovative ways Latter-day Saints have remained connected despite restrictions on typical religious gatherings.

Calgary’s Bow Valley Ward started a newsletter titled “Hear Him.” Bishop Dale Hampshire recognized that many of the older members of his congregation were not online, so the congregation’s leaders had to find an offline way to stay in touch. Each week, Hampshire and his wife mail over 300 newsletters. He explains, “We have articles about family history, missionary work, member stories, spiritual thoughts, children’s drawings, games for COVID situations, announcements and other news. The newsletter helps people feel connected and up-to-date with the community.”

In the London Ontario Stake, President David Sandor decided to launch a YouTube channel. His goal was to help congregants stay connected and feel unified amidst the uncertainty. The London Ontario Stake YouTube channel posts pre-recorded weekly messages, hosts special devotionals and releases original music videos. Recently, children, youth and adults participated in a virtual choir singing “Love One Another.” On April 12, 2020, their YouTube channel hosted a pre-recorded Easter devotional that has been viewed by more than 3,000 people worldwide.

The pandemic has not stopped Etobicoke Ontario Ward member Jean-Claude Ross from keeping in touch with others. “From the beginning of the pandemic until now, I have contacted those who live alone and may not have contact with their family members or Church members,” says Ross. “I encourage them to call those who would benefit from a phone call, because of their loneliness. So the lonely are helping the lonely.” Ross is well known in Toronto for his “call outs,” delivering birthday cards and contacting members by phone, mail, text, email and social media to check on how they are managing. He has even been known to use his medical scooter to deliver watermelon, small bags of groceries and prescriptions to those who are confined at home.

When the pandemic began, Kim Tylka, a professional educator and president of her local Latter-day Saint children’s organization (Primary) in Toronto, knew she had to do something. She says, “The strong prompting came to stay connected to the children but not overwhelm families.” Tylka has stayed connected by sending a weekly email with ideas and resources for families. Resources include activities for children to do at home, school links and other community resources, in addition to ideas for how to help children worship on the Sabbath. Families say they have appreciated the weekly communication and the variety of resources shared, allowing them to choose what would work well for their children. Biweekly “Primary Hangouts” are also held. Children are invited to join a 15- to 20-minute online meeting to share something related to the weekly theme. Tylka and her counsellors also connect weekly with each family via text, phone call or video chat. “I can honestly say, in some ways, I have felt more connected to the children during this time,” says Tylka. “A personal call and talking with the children has really helped me get to know them and love them.”

Patrick and Cornetta Robertson of Montreal gather their six children, ages 8–17, at home to have the sacrament together each Sunday. Patrick shares that it has not been easy or perfect, but they have adapted to ensure they have, at least, a 10- to 15-minute Sabbath meeting weekly. The time and form of this worship changes depending on family members’ work schedules, the timing of online classes provided by their local congregation and the needs of their young children. Connecting as a family around sacred rites has kept them grounded.

Natalie Berg of Calgary has been enjoying “Sunday School in the Park.” She says, “When the weather started getting nice, a few young couples in our congregation decided to get together to do ‘Sunday School in the Park.’ It is a social-distance event where we discuss lessons from the ‘Come Follow Me’ manual. The discussions are really good, as we ask each other questions and discuss life in relation to the scriptures.”

Latter-day Saints continue to find innovative ways to participate in religious worship, connect with others and help in their communities. Although traditional worship services have not been possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, faith in God and a desire for religious connection have found new expression in Latter-day Saint communities coast to coast.

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