Church services in Chemainus have been on hold for the last three weeks and the absence is especially going to be felt on the upcoming Easter weekend.
At the Chemainus United Church, “what we’ve had is inspirational messages, for want of a better term, I could say sermons, on-line,” said Jamie Stephen, chairman of the church board. “We’ve had to more or less replicate our services on-line.”
There’s no choir and no organist, of course, making it an obviously huge difference to the usual church experience.
Parishioners have become used to improvising since Rev. Pieter le Roux left the position at the church suddenly last June. Parishioners and Lynn Haley, a familiar and well-regarded pulpit supply leader, helped fill the gap along with Rev. Eric Stephanson who came on board in October.
When church services were still being conducted before the shutdown, Stephanson would work two Sundays a month and the pulpit supply minister was contracted out for the other two.
Stephanson had planned to stay on until the end of June until a full-time minister is hired, but everything is naturally up in the air during the crux of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephanson’s services have been much appreciated by the congregation to this point. He had experience as a carpenter before becoming ordained and then retired to Lake Cowichan.
Stephanson was happy to help out the Chemainus United Church after le Roux left and conducted his first service in early November of last year.
“He is such a fine man, honestly,” praised Stephen.
The situation had all worked out fine up until the disruption.
“The church, it maintained its vision right through the time since our last minister left,” said Stephen. “That was no small feat. We managed to stick together as a church body.”
During this time, Stephanson and Haley have been putting their expertise to work in a unique way.
“Both have been really good at recording inspirational messages and sending them out on-line,” noted Stephen.
Using Zoom for audio-visual presentations to deliver the messages for those with computers, it’s helped fill the gap for parishioners. For those without computers, the ministers have done the same with hard copies for hand delivery.
The audio-visual messages, emails and hard copies have provided the basis for some continuity for the time being and particularly at Easter.
“There are some in our community who are feeling greater anxiety and concern and loneliness than others,” pointed out Stephen.
Some members of the congregation, especially some of the older generation, are really apprehensive over what’s going on with the pandemic.
The church has also been keeping in touch with the clever technical people at national headquarters through educational instructional webinars.
“We’ve been participating in those, too, figuring out how we sustain a church financially in a crisis like this,” noted Stephen.
The church has managed to keep its staff on the payroll. That includes the music director, custodian and church office manager. One person fills the latter two positions.
“Our board felt it was the right thing to do,” said Stephen. “We perceive ourselves as a community of compassion.”
Rev. Michael Wimmer of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Chemainus couldn’t be reached for comment on the situation there. But services are obviously cancelled until at least the middle of May at this point.
“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bishop has decided that all Anglican churches on the Island will be closed for 60 days with the effect of the 16th of March,” said Wimmer in a recorded message.
Other churches in the Chemainus area are also making the best of the hiatus and hoping for a return to services in the not-too-distant future.