“We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.” Romans 8:28
St. Paul’s is an Anglican community of faith located in the small town of Knowlton, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. We began livestreaming four years ago, but God was preparing us to impact our broader world long before that. Our story has so many intertwining vines—worship, mission, evangelism, hospitality, pastoral care, weddings, funerals, and stewardship—that it is difficult to know where to begin. However, I am sure that it is not finished yet.
Starting a Youth Activity Group
Although Knowlton is in one of the wealthiest postal codes in Canada, it also contains extreme poverty. When I arrived in 2004, St. Paul’s supported a breakfast program at the local elementary school, and would send volunteers to serve the meal. When our girls began school there, my wife, Sara, and I became volunteers. One morning as we were handing out breakfast, I looked into the eyes of a girl in one of my daughter’s classes. My heart broke. “Those are the eyes of a girl who has seen too much,” I thought. She was five years old.
I approached the principal and asked if we might run a youth group for children from Knowlton Academy and St. Edouard’s, the French school nearby. From this conversation came HipHopNHockey, a group for eight- to twelve-year-olds. In a typical session, we would play sports like soccer, basketball, dodgeball, or SPUD for about an hour. Then we would have dinner—pizza, hotdogs, lasagne, etc.—and afterwards break up into smaller groups for other activities like hip-hop dancing (that lasted only one year, but the name stuck), floor hockey, crafts, and gymnastics. The principal of the local high school told us that many of those children treasured those two hours that they did not have to go home.
One of our most loyal, energetic and enthusiastic members was Sebby Call. He was a handful, but he loved HHH. One Friday, Sebby did not look well, and we later discovered that he had leukemia. Sebby died the following year at eleven years old. The town was devastated. We were devastated. St. Paul’s was asked to do the funeral, but many members of Sebby’s family were unable to come in person. Rugge Thompson, a local filmmaker, and Justin Kuplinskis, who worked for our internet company, teamed up to find a solution. On March 17, 2017 we successfully livestreamed Sebby’s funeral to his family in Ontario and England.
Leading to Livestreaming
That July, we began regularly livestreaming our services. So prior to the pandemic our livestream had already become part of the fabric of St. Paul’s. In fact, when we did not livestream funerals, we would get messages from as far away as Calgary asking why! We had the joy of livestreaming the wedding of one of our key church leaders. Her mother became ill the night before the wedding and unfortunately was unable to get out of bed to attend the wedding. However, she was still able to watch the livestream.
When the pandemic hit, livestreaming was not as new to us as it was to some, but the scale of connecting with so many people was unprecedented. We had over 5,000 views of our 2020 Easter service. Believing that this was God opening another door, we sought to make the best use of our blessing. We began livestreaming not only Sunday morning, but daily. For four months we rang the “Bells of Hope” at noon everyday and delivered a brief meditation. Also, using our muted bell, we rang “Bells of Mourning” on Fridays, both for those who had died of COVID-19, and when a significant event, such as the massacre in Nova Scotia, took place.
I kept an eye on what other churches were doing for their livestreams, and saw that the Rev. Deepak Sundara’s church in Dallas, Texas had the words of the liturgy on the lower-third portion of the screen. After investigating on YouTube, I discovered that the presentation software we use, ProPresenter, could also do that. So, on Mother’s Day we began broadcasting with lower-thirds (in English and French—another story), allowing people to follow along without having to download the liturgy. This helps us keep things very simple, so that we can include as many people as possible (an important part of our mission statement).
Planning Ahead for Post-Pandemic Worship
Two years ago, the Board of Management began to investigate how we could best steward St. Paul’s land. We explored many possibilities, then, in July 2020, a local developer who wished to purchase the land behind the church approached us. We signed an agreement in that December. As a part of this agreement, we were to receive two initial deposits: one on signing, the other on completion of the “due diligence” and rezoning.
In March, it seemed as though the pandemic was finally ending. However, we knew that post-pandemic did not mean post-digital. We put together a plan of several improvements that would help us meet, both in-person and online. However, we did not want to go ahead if we did not have the money. The very next day, the developer asked if he might have several more weeks to complete his work in exchange for the second deposit. We arranged for him to write a cheque that was for almost the exact amount that we needed for our plan.
On Easter Sunday, 2021, we began using our new state-of-the-art system. There have been many sleepless nights, stressful conversations, sighing prayers (perhaps some swearing too!) and we still are working out some bugs. However, we believe that there is an exciting future for God’s people online with many new possibilities. For example, recently we began the Rev. Dr. Judy Paulsen’s “Bible Study Project” online.
Reaching the World
St. Paul’s has virtual parishioners throughout Quebec and across Canada, the US, Mexico, Hong Kong, Germany and Egypt. In 2020, we had an average weekly Sunday attendance of 933 Facebook views (in addition to Zoom, Youtube, and Facebook French), up from 144 views in 2019. We had over 315,000 total views in 2020, compared to 19,765 in 2019. We receive prayer requests regularly through Facebook Messenger. People are discovering or rediscovering faith online, at their own speed.
We received a Christmas card from one such person who wrote, “All of your work amid Covid has been an unexpected gift! Still learning, I would like to thank you, but I should be thanking God for our crossing paths through Facebook. . . . So here it is: “Thanks Jesus, our Lord for all your love and work!” (Praying is still a work in progress . . .)” As Isaiah says,
“Rain and snow fall from the sky. But they don’t return without watering the earth that produces seeds to plant and grain to eat. That’s how it is with my words. They don’t return to me without doing everything I send them to do.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
We believe that the same promise holds true, even over the Internet.
 The Bible Study Project invites unchurched or dechurched people to read and discuss three encounters Jesus had with people, as recorded in the Gospels. These simple discussions, focused around a few open-ended questions, help new people come to know Jesus as they learn about his life, teachings, death and resurrection.