For the congregation of the First United Church in downtown Kelowna, it’s been a long and challenging year.
“The last in-person service was on Sunday, March 15 of a year ago,” Rev. Bob Wallace told Global News. “So it’s a year just about to the day.”
The church has completely gone virtual holding Sunday service online since.
“I attend church every Sunday morning,” said Beryl Itani, a member of the congregation. “I go on Zoom at 9:50 a.m., every Sunday morning. I listen to the prelude, the music before the service. I listen to the ringing of the bell.”
Itani takes part courtesy of her phone. She even puts her phone on speaker so that another congregation member who doesn’t have a computer can listen in.
“So that they still feel that connection to the church,” she said.
But in addition to Sunday service, the church has also moved other events online, including fundraisers and even Sunday school.
“We’ve had several fundraiser events. We had a lasagna dinner and auction online,” Wallace told Global News. “We use a breakout room so the Sunday school kids go off to their Sunday school class and come back at the end of the service.”
The church has also streamed services live on several occasions and plans to do the same for the upcoming Easter service.
“It’s been a steep learning curve,” Wallace said.
Those efforts were prompted by public health orders issued to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I am so proud of our congregation for wanting to do this and for seeing the need to keep us connected as a church,” said Itani.
But not all churches have done the same.
Some across B.C., including in Kelowna, have continued to hold in-person services following the last provincial order, arguing it’s their religious right to do so.
The province has handed out numerous $2,300 fines to churches adamant about breaking public health orders.
A number of churches have banded together and are now fighting the legality of COVID-19 rules prohibiting in-person services in court.
“I’m disappointed in them,” Wallace said. “Personal and individual rights often need to be tempered with the rights of the community.”
That sentiment is echoed by Itani.
“I can’t understand how anybody who is a Christian, who has this faith about helping others … how they can fly in the face of that and not care about their elderly grandmother or grandfather, people who are vulnerable,” she said.
While members of the First United Church congregation look forward to once again meeting in person, for now, they will continue to meet virtually, even saying their virtual presence is here to stay for good.
“We have discovered that some of our seniors who were not coming to church because their mobilities are challenged have gotten onto Zoom and they love it,” Wallace said.