The first human cases of COVID-19 occurred in China in December 2019, mostly among those who had visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan. The first known death was reported on January 11th 2020, and by January 21st human-to-human transmission was confirmed. The United States also confirmed the country’s first case of the virus on the 21st. On January 23rd, the Chinese government took the unprecedented step of ordering a strict lockdown of the city of Wuhan.
On March 11th, the WHO formally declared that the world was in a pandemic, by which time Europe had become its active epicentre. Within days, the pandemic was affecting populations in North America, with New York City an initial hotspot, (NYC passed 1,000 deaths on March 31st), with most of the initial cases traced to travellers from Europe.
COVID19 entered the Canadian consciousness on March 13th 2020 with the news that Sophie Trudeau had contracted the virus. My first COVID related post was as follows:
Later that afternoon the news broke that we would be entering into a full lock down in Ontario so as “flatten the curve” and avoid overwhelming the health care system. My second COVID related post reflects the immediate social impact of that announcement:
Pastoring had just become significantly more complicated!
The following Sunday, March 15th, our church, like almost every other church in Canada, met exclusively online. I remember sharing my opinion, having been through SARS back in 2003, that this would likely last 3-4 weeks at most at which point everything would go back to normal.
Pastors quickly learned to keep their predictions to themselves. COVID19 was like nothing we had experienced before.
COVID19 was too global an experience to summarize in a single blog. The pandemic was very different for people in China, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa, the USA and Canada. Experiences varied significantly from province to province within the same country. Experiences varied significantly for different churches in the same city.
This is our story – no more and no less.
As Cornerstone Baptist Church, Orillia we passed through 10 distinct protocol phases between March 2020 and March 2022, followed by a number of distinct recovery phases as we made our way up and out of the massive cultural, political, social, psychological and spiritual impact crater affected by COVID19.
Through it all, the Lord was remarkably kind to us.
The following review is intended to serve you in your own recollections and to provide one perspective on an event that changed the world and that must be understood if we are to serve the Lord faithfully and fruitfully in the years and decades ahead.
Phase 1: March 15th 2020 – June 13th 2020
The first wave of COVID19 is generally understood as having begun in March 2020 with its peak reached in late May 2020. March 15th was our first affected worship service. On Monday March 9th we discussed COVID briefly at our Elder Prayer Meeting but did not realize the scale of the issue. By Friday March 13th we were developing protocols for safety, sanitizing etc. We made the decision to go online for service on Sunday. Little did we know that we would stay in this lockdown for the next 3 months.
During this period we were allowed 8 people in the building for the creation of online services.
The immediate issue for most churches in the early days of Phase 1 was figuring out how to record and/or broadcast a service. Thankfully, we had some pre-existing capacity in this area and a fair amount of in-house talent and expertise. Even still, there were several logistical and technical challenges to be navigated. The first Sunday we were online we crashed and so had people going back and forth between Facebook and Boxcast trying to find us.
Conducting an “on-line worship service” was a challenge. Preaching to a camera was a new experience. Do you scan from left to right as you would normally do when preaching to a full sanctuary? I did for the first few weeks and then realized that was ridiculous and artificial. Do you make a joke, even though there is no one there to smile or laugh? Preaching in general became a little shorter and a little more sober. Shorter, because you weren’t engaging directly with people and you weren’t responding to non-verbal cues. More sober because there was none of the normal interaction and feedback that are associated with in person engagement.
It wasn’t ideal but it was the best we could manage at the time.
People were having a “together experience” and they were receiving instruction and guidance from the Scriptures. It wasn’t what anyone wanted, but it was still a blessing.
From a shepherding perspective, it was difficult to measure the rate of congregational engagement. Gradually we figured out that the only thing worth counting on Facebook were long views. People might “pop over” to Facebook to comment or share, but it was the long-views that represented actual participation. That still didn’t tell us how many people were engaged through each screen. It could be 1 or 7 or anything in between. We learned not to over or underestimate viewing numbers during this time.
The lockdown had an interesting impact on giving. Before COVID only about 40% of our giving was online. We were worried about this during Phase 1. However, by the grace of God, our people figured out online giving by the second Sunday in the lockdown.
By the midpoint of Phase 1, once we had figured out how to analyze online engagement, it appears that we had just over 1000 screens tuning in to our online services every week. Our average attendance pre-lockdown was just over 600 so we understood that there were other people watching on as well. We received numerous emails from pastors of smaller churches indicating that they had directed their members to watch our service while they worked to figure out the technology.
We also moved our Prayer Groups and Bible Studies online as well. We used a variety of formats. We settled on Zoom for Prayer Groups and we did a variety of things for Bible Study. We developed something called “Going Deeper” that seems to have been well received. To watch a sample study see here.
Our church continued to do local outreach during this period, and in fact, significantly increased our commitment to the homeless shelter in our community. We prepared meals and delivered support and encouragement baskets to many people in the community. We heard from many people how much these supports were appreciated. We also encouraged our members to go door to door to check on neighbours and to offer support and prayer. The increased social contact may have been something of a “silver lining”.
Near the end of this first protocol phase the death of George Floyd in Minnesota led to a series of massive protests around the world. Lockdowns, fear, and racial tension came together in a toxic mix that led to a significant spike in mental health concerns.
Pandemic Related Writings:
COVID19 Best Practices – March 13th 2020
The End Of The Beginning: A Coronavirus Odyssey – March 23rd 2020
4 Pastors Talk Communion In A COVID19 World – March 26th 2020
The Covidian Exile Of The Church – March 31st 2020
Is It A Sin To Be Anxious During COVID19? – April 27th 2020
5 Ways To Look Like A Christian During COVID19 – May 10th 2020
Phase 2: June 14th 2020 – August 23rd 2020
There was a great deal of confusion around the likely protocols leading up to the partial reopening after the first wave. The Ontario government seemed to forget about churches when they began signalling what the protocols would be. We went looking through workplace regulations that were being released in parallel areas that might bear on our operations, until finally something specific for churches was released. In addition, the specific protocols were released several days after permission in broad terms was signalled. This delay resulted in wasted time as we debated and prepared protocols that would become redundant a few days later.
People were initially quite hesitant to come back, even with the safety protocols in place. The first week back people were quiet and seemed almost afraid to breathe. We tried to create some energy with cymbals, clapping and ribbons but the mood was initially quite subdued. Singing was “strongly discouraged” and people were still getting used to their masks.
The second wave of COVID19 began in mid-July 2020 resulting in the protocols imposed in Phase 3.
During this time we were running only 1 live service at 30% capacity at the main Cornerstone campus for the whole church – Cornerstone and RCC (our branch plant) together. RCC didn’t begin conducting separate services again until August 30th.
It was difficult in this protocol phase to measure engagement, as some people were engaging live while others were continuing to engage online. At 30% capacity with 6 foot spacing we could get a maximum of 238 people into our main sanctuary. We had to pre-register and prescreen so we inevitably had unused seats as people would register on Monday and feel ill by Sunday morning and so stay home. Initially we only set up seating clusters according to registration. Later on we discovered it was more efficient to leave the chairs set up and simply have the ushers seat with spacing.
Our average engagement during this time was about 15% above pre-COVID levels; again, likely with some other folks from smaller churches watching on.
It was during this phase that people began realizing that COVID could go on for a long time. Transitions that had been deferred were eventually actualized. Our Associate Pastor went back to the states with his wife. By the grace of God, a student of ours had graduated and was looking to return home.
I personally found the lead up to this stage to be the most stressful phase in the entire pandemic. As Lead Pastor I felt responsible to develop safe protocols for worship services and office operations but it was extremely difficult to identify the legal parameters. As a Board, we determined not to engage in civil disobedience unless it became clear to us that the protocols were maliciously or profanely targeting the church.
That did not appear to us to be the case.
The church generally got a better deal than the restaurants, movie theatres and barber shops. Most churches (all?) in Ontario appeared willing to abide by the protocols during Phase 1 (March 15th – June 13th) but during Phase 2, partly due to the confusion around protocols and the perceived injustice of Big Box Stores like Costco and Walmart being able to have larger numbers in their stores than were permitted in churches, the agreement around abiding by these protocols began to come under pressure in the wider church.
The debate became rather heated.
Phase 3: August 30th – October 25th 2020
The adjustment in this period for us had to do with the re-opening of the RCC campus. There was a fair bit to figure out there with respect to the school in terms of protocols, liability etc. It was good for RCC to get going again. While it was helpful for them to ride out the worst of COVID with us, had it gone on much longer it would have endangered their identity and emerging independence.
During this time we were doing 2 services in 2 locations at 30% capacity. CBC capacity was 238 and RCC capacity, which started up again on August 30th, was 100. Protocols were further tightened in late September.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 20% higher than pre-COVID, again, likely with people from smaller churches watching on. Offerings were very strong. With people spending less money on travel and eating out, there was perhaps more ability for people to give.
Our church experienced another transition during this phase with one of our Associate Pastors taking a Lead position in the town to the south of us. Our Pastor to Seniors retired due to health concerns. That left us feeling a short staffed. Thankfully, we had interns who were eager to help and a flexible group of leaders, staff and volunteer, who were willing and able to adapt.
It was during this period when the civil disobedience issue began to boil over in the wider church. Much of the Christian witness in the public square was sounding angry, entitled and out of touch with the concerns of regular Canadians. Inside the church, old alliances were dissolving.
This was the stage when the challenge for pastors shifted from “the technological” to “the legal/theological”. People started asking questions about where the authority of the government ended and the authority of the church began. Old arguments about theonomy resurfaced in a number of “baptistic” congregations. Every crisis forces the church to clarify her thinking on a variety of issues and the church/state dynamic was emerging as the issue most in need of revisiting during phase 3.
Pandemic Related Writings:
The Christian And The State – September 7th 2020
A COVID Order For Communion – September 23rd 2020
Rebuilding Our Witness In COVID19 a World – September 27th 2020
Phase 4: November 1st 2020 – December 26th 2020
This entire phase happened inside what is now referred to as “the second wave”. The second wave is understood to have peaked in January of 2021. We were constantly watching the numbers so as to anticipate potential tightening of protocols. During this time we were doing 3 services in 2 locations at 30% capacity.
The adjustment for us in Phase 4 was in moving to two services at the main Cornerstone campus. We made the decision to broadcast the 9 am service. There was a great deal of concern that we would be moved into lockdown prior to Christmas, but thankfully the lockdown was not imposed until December 26th.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 30% higher than pre-COVID, again, likely with people from smaller churches watching on.
The challenge during this period was the same as in the previous: how to understand online engagement alongside LIVE. LIVE numbers grew as seating capacity increased with the opening of the second service our main campus. Challenges with registration and “no shows” continued.
We were short staffed during this time and it felt like we were doing twice the work for half the return. Things were hard in the church, and things were getting heated outside. The civil disobedience conversation was in full flame with bridges burned and alliances reorganized, seemingly in such a way as to prioritize political affinity over theological affinity.
Pandemic Related Writings:
My Threshold For Civil Disobedience In A COVID19 World – November 24th 2020
What Does And Does Not Constitute Civil Disobedience – November 28th 2020
Should I Get The Vaccine? – December 13th 2020
A Few Tips On How To Read The Bible In A Time Of Anxiety And Plague – December 20th 2020
Phase 5: December 26th – February 14th 2021
During this time we were on full lockdown in the late stages of the second wave. This time RCC provided its own livestream service with its own message etc. Other than that, Phase 5 shared a lot of similarities with Phase 1.
We wondered initially if it made sense for RCC to run their own livestream – given that we were doing the same preaching series an argument could have been made to do things the same way we did in Phase 1, but it was becoming apparent that this pandemic could end up going on for a long time and eventually, if RCC did not produce their own services, they would be functionally reabsorbed into CBC. Therefore, despite the inefficiencies, we went to two livestream services every Sunday. Some RCC elements were recorded at the Cornerstone campus, but the content was their own.
We began hosting “small services” during this phase. We would have 10 or fewer people in for short prayer and bible reading services hosted by a Pastor or Elder. Many people found them helpful. We produced our services differently in Phase 5 than we had in Phase 1. We began using a hybrid model with half live and half pre-recorded elements. This allowed us to have a full band and also ensured smooth technical delivery. The sermon, preservice prayer and benediction were presented live, with worship elements pre-recorded.
It was during this Phase when I began observing a significant level of staff burnout. We were short staffed, needs were high, vacations disrupted, confusion rampant and hope deferred when we went back into full lockdown.
This was the grind.
The first full lockdown was like camping in the backyard. It was almost fun. This lockdown was totally different. This was when pastors and people were tempted to check out.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 25% higher than pre-COVID. However, our screen numbers were smaller than in phase 1. We assumed that this was because more smaller churches had figured out the technology. This may be a long term silver lining.
The conversation about civil disobedience continued to rage. In Ontario it appeared that about 90% of the churches were abiding by the regulations and protocols. They didn’t love it, but they felt themselves obligated due to Romans 13:1-7. A few churches began making an argument that Hebrews 10:24-25 contained a clear command for the church to gather weekly in person, and therefore, Romans 13:1-7 did not apply.
Pandemic Related Writings:
Is There A New Testament Command To Gather? – January 3rd 2021
Luther And Calvin On Secular Authority – January 6th 2021
The Apostles And The Civil Law – January 16th 2021
Does God Hate Our Worship? – January 24th 2021
Phase 6: February 15th – April 18th 2021
This was the most exhausting and inefficient phase of the pandemic. During this time we were running 4-5 services at 2 locations at 15% in a “modified grey zone” protocol. In February we had 1 week in Red and then very quickly went into Grey. The “third wave” began in mid-March and peaked in April, prompting further adjustments in protocols.
15% sanctuary capacity is the least efficient of all options. Some churches wondered whether it was even worth it to meet. We did meet, but with the capacity limits, “self screening” and “no shows”, we were only to get about 100 people into a sanctuary made for 500 +. It felt sparse and inefficient.
The civil disobedience movement had become nasty. 90% of churches were in compliance, but they were taking a ton of heat from dissenting churches and from online antagonists.
Easter happened during this Phase.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 30% higher than pre-COVID. We assumed that we still had many people from smaller churches watching on, though fewer than in phase 1.
During this phase I was engaged in frequent conversation with our local Health Unit. The numbers seemed to indicate that better than 15% capacity was warranted, but by this time, all the decisions were being made by the Provincial Government and one had the impression that there was zero good will toward churches as a result of the actions taken by those favouring civil disobedience, right or wrong. It began to appear to our neighbours in the culture as if the church and government were at war. Of course, that perception was distorted to some extent by unfavourable media coverage, but the fact remains, a posture of conflict was now perceived to exist and that perception will form part of the ministry context in this country moving forward.
Pandemic Related Writings:
Pastoring After This Pandemic – February 21st 2021
Dear Pandemic Weary Sister – February 28th 2021
How Should A Christian View The Government? – April 13 2021
Phase 7: April 19th – June 6th 2021
During this time we were under hard lockdown conditions in the latter stages of the third wave. Once again RCC provided its own livestream service with its own message etc. Phase 7 shared a number of similarities with Phase 5 and Phase 1. We launched RCC as a fully independent congregation on June 1st with their first service being on the last full week of the hard lockdown.
Summer 2021 featured a concerted effort to get Canadians vaccinated with the expectation that cases would eventually begin to come down. That did seem to be the case. As older folks were vaccinated, and outbreaks in long term care facilities were contained, and then stamped out entirely, the pandemic began to feel less like a car crash and more like a traffic jam. It felt less dangerous and more tedious. It was all about waiting for everyone to get vaccinated so “life could get back to normal”.
Vaccines were not initially politicised in the states, with President Trump being a major advocate for them, but after Trump, as the vaccine effort became associated with the Biden administration, a ton of antivaccine rhetoric began to dominate the cable news airwaves and internet blog sites. It was always going to be a pastoral challenge, but the tension around vaccines began to grow steadily during this time as people became aware that reopening protocols would be tethered to vaccination rates.
Our staff was definitely running in the red in this Phase. They exited the last Phase exhausted because of the inefficiency of the 15% protocol. A third hard lockdown felt like a gut punch. The light at the end of the tunnel was the arrival of a new Associate Pastor in May. That brought a lift of energy and a lightening of the load for everyone.
The human toll of lockdowns was pressed home to us as a congregation when we were unable to properly celebrate the launching of RCC. That was an almost decade long project that ended in a whisper. Even more painful was our inability to give a dear long time member and elder a proper funeral. We conducted 3 small graveside services with a larger memorial in August. The injustice of this was felt heavily by us all.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 25% higher than pre-COVID.
The conversation in the wider church during this phase had moved on to the issue of “persecution”. Those who favoured civil disobedience felt that COVID protocols represented persecution. Most pastors in Canada did not find that designation to be appropriate, though there was wide spread sympathy for the human toll that the lockdown measures were extracting.
Pandemic Related Writings:
COVID Gleanings From Ecclesiastes 7 – April 19th 2021
Persecution, Birth Pang Or Pruning? How Should We Interpret This Pandemic? May 2nd 2021
What If We Had 50 Years Before The Outbreak Of Persecution In Canada? – May 6th 2021
A Case Study In Persecution (Lessons From 1 Peter) – June 6th 2021
Phase 8: June 7th – August 1st 2021
This Phase will likely be remembered as Ontario’s “failed reopening phase”. There was supposed to be a 3-step process, with progress being evaluated every 21 days. Thus we had 3 weeks in stage 1 which saw us running 2 services at 15% capacity; 3 weeks in stage 2 with 2 services at 25% capacity and 3 weeks with 2 services limited only by 6 foot spacing requirements after which, at some point, we were told, we would enter “the new normal”. With 6 foot spacing we were able to get about between 250-260 people in the sanctuary.
The reopening plan in Ontario was fairly conservative compared with the plans implemented in BC and Alberta. The initial 3 weeks at 15% put us back into the most inefficient approach to Sunday services. The 3 weeks at 25% seemed an intentional dig at the dissenting churches, some of whom were shut down by court order until the protocols were allowing 30% or more. The 3 weeks at 6 foot spacing didn’t represent much of an increase in capacity. We were able to get 238 at 30% (which we enjoyed in previous Red Zone protocols) and only 255 with 6 foot spacing.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 30% higher than pre-COVID, though we were now only counting engagement at the main campus, having launched our plant RCC.
During this phase I felt like we were suffering from a double trauma: the trauma associated with the loss of RCC and the trauma associated with the initial efforts to regather our scattered flock. By the grace of God and with great joy and intentionality, we gave a lot to establish RCC as a healthy congregation. There were 5 former Cornerstone elders attending, serving and leading down at RCC; and a further 4 young leaders trained by CBC through our Barnabas Program plus 1 long time intern. We felt “bled out” and depleted, but in a good way, I imagine, somewhat like a mother who has given birth to a beautiful, healthy, bawling baby.
Joy and exhaustion overlapped and commingled.
In addition, the regathering of the saints did not go as smoothly as we had hoped. Some folks had become quite attached to “church on the couch” and others were suffering from an excess of anxiety. We were also discovering a growing tension around the COVID vaccines. The prolonged stress of the pandemic had forced many people deep into the internet and not everyone had emerged with the same information. During this phase I had multiple conversations per week with members or attendees over internet related issues. Some believed the vaccine was an effort to limit human population by environmental activists, some saw it as an attempt to impose totalitarian governments around the world. Some were angry at us for complying with health regulations. I estimate that about 5% of our people were wrestling with these sorts of emotions and confusions during this phase.
Phase 9: August 8th – March 5th 2022
As the 21 days of stage 3 in the reopening plan drew near, most of us were expecting some kind of announcement related to the “new normal” moving forward. However, due to the emergence of the Delta Variant which created a fourth wave, and with the vaccination campaign having failed to achieve identified benchmarks, that announcement never came. The “car accident” of early COVID became “the traffic jam” of late stage COVID. We remained subject to the 6 foot spacing rule until March 5th 2022.
That’s 7 months.
We were still required to wear masks indoors. Through it all, we continued to provide 2 services per Sunday at our main (and now only) campus with a capacity of between 250-260 people.
During this fourth wave infection numbers went up fairly quickly but hospitalization rates seemed quite steady. The vaccine seemed to be doing what it was supposed to do: fewer people became seriously ill and recovery times seemed expedited. By mid-September, the infection rate had slowed significantly.
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 30% higher than pre-COVID. During this phase we estimated that about 20% of our people were still engaging exclusively online and we began making a conscious effort to begin connecting with these individuals directly to provide LIVE encouragement. Some had legitimate health concerns and were waiting until everyone else was vaccinated. Some folks however, had simply lost the habit of attending. Sorting out which was which was a particular challenge.
During this phase we were also dealing with some tensions around vaccines and government mandates. The reopening plans in Canada were largely tethered to vaccination targets and there was a segment of the population refusing to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons. This created tensions in the culture and in the church. There was a great deal of concern that “Vaccine Passports” would be imposed upon the church. Thankfully, this did not come to pass for us here in Ontario.
The two-service format placed a significant strain on church unity. Despite our best efforts, the congregation split along demographic lines with the young families coming to the early service and the older folks generally coming to the 11. Older folks appreciate a little more time to get ready. Younger folks appreciate the opportunity to keep the little ones on schedule and to get home in time to make lunch and do nap times afterward. The result was a demographic split.
The two-service format also put considerable strain on staff and volunteers. Running two services can be done for short periods to build up capacity, but COVID taught us that you can only run leaders so far, so fast before they burn out.
Pandemic Related Writings:
How Ontario’s Vaccine Passport Is Likely To Impact Churches – September 1st 2021
The Church On The Other Side: Anticipations And Concerns – December 31st 2021
A Few Principles On Civil Disobedience – January 5th 2022
Phase 10: March 6th – March 20th 2022
During this stage we were finally able to meet without capacity restrictions, though we were still required to wear masks indoors. March 27th was the first Sunday without the mask requirement representing the formal end to COVID protocols affecting corporate worship.
Praise the Lord!
Engagement in this period appeared to be about 40% higher than pre-COVID. We estimated that we still had about 10% of our people engaging exclusively online. There was a tangible increase in passion and vitality in our corporate worship experiences. “Hunger is the best sauce” as Grandma used to say, and people were manifestly grateful for things they previously took for granted. At Cornerstone we felt battle tested and thankful. We were stronger, more unified and more spiritually aware than before.
During this phase, we all began to take stock of what we had been through as a church, in the wider world. Ed Stetzer estimated that the evangelical church in America was 30% smaller on the other side of COVID – and on the other side of the social upheavals that happened simultaneously. The racial tensions were much worse in the USA than they were here, and they penetrated the church to an extent that they didn’t here. The American Evangelical church will never be the same, short of Divine revival. COVID, George Floyd and the Southern Baptist Church sex abuse scandal represented a 1-2-3 knockout combination that will reverberate for the rest of our lifetimes. Living in Canada was like being 100 miles from an earthquake zone. Whereas their house collapsed, our house suffered only minor damage, comparatively speaking.
Recovery Phase 1: March 27th – June 26th 2022
All throughout the spring schools, hospitals and business were experiencing very high rates of absenteeism. People were very cautious around infection and were encouraged to stay home if they had any symptoms. COVID was still spreading, but with high rates of vaccination, the “new normal” was to self-isolate when sick, but to otherwise carry on. Here at Cornerstone that meant irregular attendance, with one week fairly high and the next week fairly low if something went around town or passed through the congregation. This put stress on ministry areas dependent upon volunteers. In addition, with protocols eased, though with vaccination required for cross border travel, everyone and their brother went on vacation.
Engagement in this period was about 25% higher than pre-COVID. LIVE attendance was back to pre-COVID levels but online engagement continued to be fairly high.
The sense of “fresh starts” and “new beginnings” was everywhere. Like Noah coming out of the ark, we sensed that the world had changed and we were thankful and eager to be a part of what comes next.
Pandemic Related Writings:
Easter After Exile – April 14th 2022
4 Opportunities For The Church On The Other Side – June 6th 2022
Recovery Phase 2: July 3rd – October 9th 2022
After the thrill of being together, summer saw an unusually high rate of absenteeism due to an almost 3 year backlog in vacations. Everybody was somewhere and that created a sense of disruption in the regathered church.
In addition, while givings had been a little above average for most evangelical churches in Canada during the pandemic, after the pandemic, disposable income was being spent on vacations and most churches reported a decline in income. Most assumed that this was temporary, but nobody really knew what to make of engagement data during this time because of the dynamics of recovery.
During this phase we began to wrestle with significant cost of living adjustments due to inflation and interest rate adjustments. Some of this had to do with supply chain disruptions, and some had to do with managing the money supply distortions associated with the government’s attempts to manage the financial impact of the lockdowns. Whatever the reasons, these two factors began to put the squeeze on Canadians in late summer 2022.
Engagement in this period was about 30% higher than pre-COVID. LIVE attendance was above pre-COVID levels and online engagement continued to be fairly high.
Many had expected the tensions within the wider church to begin to heal now that the restrictions had been lifted. Strangely and sadly, that did not occur. It appeared as though some churches saw value in maintaining a posture of perpetual warfare against the government – and against other churches that did not share their COVID related convictions. The divisions that formed during the pandemic appear, at least for now, to have solidified. The old evangelical continent has become a series of smaller islands.
Pandemic Related Writings:
Of Antichrist And His Ruin: A Brief Review – September 5th 2022
Recovery Phase 3: October 16th – December 25th 2022
November 2022 brought us the worst flu season in living memory. With historic low natural immunity due to the COVID management protocols, and with a return to robust social engagement, experts warned us that this would happen – and it did! Schools were reporting a 40% absentee rate; businesses and hospitals were also affected. It felt like COVID’s final effort to reach out from the grave to give us one last kick in the shin.
Inflation reached 6.3% in December of 2022, the highest it has been in recent memory. The Prime Interest rate reached 6.45% in December – which is still low in terms of historical perspective, but high for people who bought into the real estate market at the top of their budget during the record lows we saw in the early days of the pandemic. This created a double shock for consumers, particularly younger consumers, new in the housing market.
Engagement numbers for us in this phase were about the same as in Recovery Phase 2, though absenteeism during this phase had less to do with vacations and more to do with illness.
Pandemic Related Writings:
Who Or What Is The Antichrist? – November 13th 2022
Recovery Phase 4: January 2023
I anticipate that, should the Lord tarry, and should the story of our church be written 50 years from now, we might identify January 2023 as the official beginning of a new era. We began to see LIVE attendance numbers that surpassed what we saw in January 2020 by about 9%. Online engagement continued to be high. By his grace, we have emerged stronger, larger, more unified and grateful than we were before. We are more content under God’s Providence and more aware that time is short and life is uncertain. We are eager to be active and engaged in the Lord’s service.
The world outside seems more lost, more depressed, more angry and uncertain than ever before. While we mourn for the pain and uncertainty being experienced by our friends and neighbours, we believe that the conditions for mission and evangelism have greatly improved. The stability, wisdom and joy of a healthy church community should offer an attractive and compelling alternative moving forward.
The purpose of this review was fairly narrow: it was to present a detailed review of one church’s experience during this global pandemic. Hopefully, it gave evidence of God’s kindness and the church’s resilience. Hopefully it aided the reader in recalling the Lord’s Providence and mercy to his or her church over the same period. If it identified some challenges to be faced and some opportunities to be seized in the years and decades ahead, then the author will be pleased – and may God alone be glorified, in this and all things; praise the Lord!
Pastor Paul Carter
If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.
 This paragraph and the one above it were lightly adapted from the following source: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/covid-19-pandemic#