Despite concentrated and creative efforts to reach members of their congregations or parishes, churches Island-wide have felt financial and spiritual impacts.
Reverend Bonnie Frazer says Hillcrest United Church in Montague has likely lost about $5,000 this year from cancelling fundraisers. She says they have also lost about $1,000 to $2,000 in income the church normally receives from groups that rent building space throughout the week.
“It’s probably not as high as it would be if people had their bums in the seats,” says Rev. Frazer about the amount of monetary offerings she has collected since COVID-19 has prevented people from gathering.
Every Sunday for over two months now, Reverend Frazer has stepped up to the lectern at the church and preached a sermon—to a room filled with empty pews. The church’s custodian records the service for the church’s website and live streams the service to Facebook. The church’s organist, Anne White and her daughters Sara and Andrea, accompany Rev. Frazer, filling the services with song.
The online church attendance encourages Rev. Frazer. On a regular Sunday, about 80 to 100 people would gather in her church in Montague. Most of the online broadcasts have been viewed more than 300 times on Facebook. Her Easter Friday service broadcast attained over 700 views.
She is pleased to see how far the sermons have spread. Some have viewed from as far away as Japan, others from the southern United States and quite a few from western Canada have tuned in. Some viewers are people who attended her church before they moved away from the Island for school or work; others, nobody seems to know.
This type of outreach experience isn’t limited to Rev. Frazer’s church. Denominations across PEI have been experimenting with new ways to reach their congregations.
The Island’s Catholic Bishop, Richard Grecco, doesn’t have specific numbers to show the financial losses Catholic churches are experiencing but he expects parishes might only be making a few percentage points of the amount they usually make from weekly offerings.
“Many people, I have to say God bless them, have sent in their Sunday contributions as best they can,” says Bishop Grecco about weekly offerings, “We’re very grateful to them. But obviously the drop off is enormous.”
He is proud of the innovative ways priests have been reaching out.
“Some priests have gone out to bless houses.” says Bishop Grecco. “They don’t go into the house, the people stand on the steps. Then the priest blesses the house and they pray together.”
Catholic priests have started live-streaming mass and some, like Father Danny Wilson at St Anthony’s Church in Woodstock, have offered drive through confession services in church parking lots.
Fundraisers are a major source of revenue to many churches.
Reverend Faith MacCuish, the executive minister who oversees United Churches in Atlantic Canada, estimated they generate about 30 to 40 percent of revenue for some churches. Due to COVID-19, many of those have been cancelled.
Reverend Amanda Henderson-Bolton with the Presbyterian church is the moderator of the Island’s presbytery.
She says the Presbyterian church usually organizes one of their most significant fundraisers, a lobster plate take-out for Mother’s day.
Both agree United and Presbyterian churches have likewise experienced a drop in offerings.
“Some parishes are just worried about being able to survive because obviously all sorts of revenue have ended,” says Bishop Grecco.
To get through the pandemic churches have benefited from federal government financial aid. Some church leaders or employees have claimed EI. Some churches have qualified for COVID-19 related financial support like wage subsidy options.
Rev MacCuish says the United Church has also offered its congregations an interest free $10,000 dollar loan option.
“Thank God the government has offered some help,” says Father John Molina, who works at three Catholic parishes including the small parish of St Simon and St Jude Catholic Church in Tignish. “I will say, many of our parishes were living day by day.”