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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | OCTOBER 2020 EDITION
How Churches are Planning to Reopen in London An Interview with Seven London Pastors
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Promise Keepers Canada Announces New Name And Website For Global Reach

By Kristine Abramoff



As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen, churches in London are deciding how they will reopen while still complying with health unit regulations for the safety of their congregations. They are also looking at how church will look in the near future and beyond.

Jon Korkadakis notes that “COVID will define the church for the future.” Churches must adapt during these trying times so that they can stay on mission to continue to reach their members and the community. Church leaders call churches to continue to keep the good momentum and the positives that have come out of the pandemic, and to be aware of what has worked to keep the congregation connected during this time.

The following church leaders in London share their thoughts to some common questions about what they have learned during the COVID pandemic, and their plans for reopening and the future.

  • Garry Fess of Royal View Church,
  • Matthew Eckert of North Park Community Church,
  • Rob Hogendoorn of Forest City Community Church,
  • Jon Korkidakis of Village Green Community Church,
  • Phil Butler of Westview Baptist Church,
  • Pastor Charles Stone of West Park Church, and
  • Pastor Jude St. John of West London Alliance

When was the last time you had a service at your physical location?

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
March 15th. As soon as COVID started to get worse, we shut down.

Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
We stopped mid-March, when it was announced that everyone needed to stop having services.

Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
March 8th. We stopped a little before the lockdown because we realized it was so important.

Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
March 15. That Friday a reduction was announced, and the following Sunday is when everyone shut down.

Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
Sunday, March 8 was the last service, and things shifted very quickly in the week that followed. We have a very high percentage of seniors in our congregation so there was a lot of concern about carrying on.

Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church:
Sunday, March 8.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
March 8 (not including services after June 21, which is when we returned to the building).

What are some of the most difficult issues members of your congregation have had during the shutdown?


Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
Our biggest difficulties have been around loneliness. Also, those with elementary aged kids are struggling to find balance between working and having kids home all the time.

Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
For some people the social isolation is hard. There are many robust online communities, and the service, Alpha, and small groups have moved online, but some people still find it quite isolating. It’s harder for kids’ ministry, since kids need to be with other kids. It’s also challenging for older people who don’t have much internet access.

Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
Elders have been calling everyone on the contact list with the intention of asking people how they’re doing emotionally and financially. We’re prepared to help out in whatever ways we can. The congregation is still being cared for in a sense, but the bigger difficulty has been the technological aspect. We have servant-based life groups and youth groups, and not everyone has been able to connect technologically with them. It has been a challenge to get everyone online, and some members don’t have internet.

Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
The social disconnect has been really hard on seniors in the congregation. A significant number of them do not even have email or internet connection, so they’re relying heavily on the phone. That’s fine for one on one, but they feel cut off from the community. We saw that early on. We don't have a large number of families, but we have some, and we hear about how impossible it is to have working from home, parenting, and teaching from home all happening in the same space. Also, people who have loved ones in care homes, nursing homes, and group homes are completely cut off from them, and that’s been really tough.

Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church:
Isolation and loneliness.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
Upheaval in daily routines from work to parenting to extracurricular activities. Separation from relatives and significant relationships. Employment issues.

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
Seniors tend to not be as savvy online, and since all services are online and meetings are on Zoom, this is a challenge for them. Not being together face to face is also a disappointment. We’ve worked hard to call people once a month and connect, and use email and social media to get the message out about services we’re providing.

What has been the most difficult for you and/or the leadership team during the shutdown?


Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
We’ve had to navigate the new decisions that are communicated, and to adapt and see what it will mean for our church. We’ve had to figure out how to maintain a strong Christian presence through our church even if the form or methodology has to change. The adaptation, conversations, strategies, and decisions have been most challenging, along with moving to a completely virtual online world.

Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
One difficulty has been sifting through all the news, opinions, critiques, and trying to stay focused on what’s important for us as a church. There are extreme emotions. We’ve been overjoyed by the number of churches that pivoted well and did dynamic things and reached more people. Other emotions were doom and gloom, with some saying this is the end of the church. People were defining the church by the building and gathering, and thought that this was the end of church as we know it. These emotions added to the confusion.

Churches also need good solid data and information from the government, but we couldn’t get data from the government on specific details of what was actually happening. We would have liked to have been able to deal with the most vulnerable in the congregation in a more concentrated and focused manner.

Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
The constant learning and change, and big decisions all along has been really difficult, and it has not let up. At times it has felt like a tidal wave. We did want to make sure that we were engaging well with people and adapting to constant change, so we put some new things in place with new teams of volunteers and new technology.

An ironic sub-challenge is that a lot of organizations were putting out Zoom meetings, blogs, and information, but it became overwhelming. We wondered what to read, what not to read, and how to navigate not missing important information. Now we’ve latched onto the ones that are actually helpful and we’re relying on each other as a leadership team to stay informed.

Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church: Maintaining a level of motivation, supporting each person on the team effectively, sleep, encouraging our team to take care of themselves (soul care, etc.), and balancing family and work while working from home.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
Finding new ways to minister and fulfill our roles and responsibilities without in person meetings.

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
Not seeing people has been tough! The constant changes have been challenging as well, and we’ve had to respond to reports from medical folk appropriately. We were hoping to return on June 28th, but we recently got a memo that the health department doesn’t want singing in the church due to the spread of the virus. We’ve found that services online are working well, so for right now we’ll do that instead of returning.

Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
The biggest thing is that we don’t know how people are really doing. People say they’re doing okay, but there’s no real way to know. The elders, staff, and volunteers have been making calls to everyone in the church, but it’s hard to know how people are doing without looking them in the eye and having an in-person conversation.

Have you been holding live streams of your services?


Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
We already had been holding livestreams for a year and a half, so we pivoted right away without missing a Sunday.

Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
We’ve been pre-recording services and posting them on YouTube and Facebook. That was new for us. Our online presence was bare bones, so figuring out how to provide information that is both useful and within copyright limitations was part of the learning curve. We’re finally finding a balance between familiarity in worship and what makes sense in an online environment.

Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church:
Yes. Prior to this, we had livestreamed our services for several years, so the process was in place, but it needed to be enhanced to meet the needs of the entire congregation.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
We have livestreamed the service and the musical worship. They have been separate streams. We have intentionally not tried to re-create a full service online.

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
Yes. They are on Sundays at 10:30. We record the weekly service ahead of time and put it on YouTube. We are using Zoom for teaching, discussion, and small groups.

Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
We prerecord our services and have them up on Friday night so that people can view them on the weekend. Our Huron site moved to a livestream on Sundays at 10:45.

Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
Yes. We do livestreams four times a week. We do a livestream three times on Sunday, and once on Wednesday. The original livestream is taped in such a way that it’s relevant whenever, and then re-run.

If YES, will you continue to hold these once fully open?


Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
Yes, and we’re actually looking to expand our livestream services. We want a dedicated space for video production in the church, and we’re adding elements to what we already have. The online and physical church will work in parallel as one.

Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
We will 100% continue with putting our services online. There’s been a cry from the congregation and leadership saying it’s great to be able to connect if they can’t come out physically to worship or if they’re away. With an older congregation it’s been a little harder, but it’s also part of outreach and putting out the message that we’re declaring for the world.

Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church:
Yes, livestream will continue to be part of our ongoing presence; in this new reality, livestreaming will take a great more prominent dedication of time and effort by staff in order to support those who have connected with West Park through this medium.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
We will. And now we are streaming our full service.

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
Yes, livestreams will continue on. We’ve also seen an uptick in attendance at our weekly prayer meeting since moving it online! People are able to participate online without travelling. We’ll be assessing how we want to continue this when fully open, and we’ll be evolving the way we do church. The building is just one tool that connects believers!

Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
Yes, we’ll put in place livestream technology for all sites, and increase our capacity to do livestreams of the whole service rather than just the sermon.

Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
Yes, we will continue to have livestreams. Lots of new people have connected with our church through this time via livestream, and sometimes it’s easier for people to connect online. Also, even when people are away, they can stay connected.

When and how do you plan to reopen your physical location?


Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
We haven’t announced a specific date yet, but it won’t be before the middle of the summer. This is partly in recognition of the highly vulnerable congregation we have, and also because we want to keep an eye on how things are going in Canada and Ontario as things reopen. We also have a lot of logistics to keep in mind.

Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church:
Our team is currently working with our elders to develop a process that will allow us to reopen safely and with adherence to the guidelines set by our government and local health unit. A date has not yet been set.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
We opened on Sunday, and have followed the recommendations and advice of the government and local health authority.

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
We’re assessing the situation. We already have rooms set up with 30% capacity and physical distancing. We won’t open until the beginning of August or maybe September. We’ll do online church until the end of July, and continue to do meetings via Zoom.

Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
All three of our sites are together, so there will be similar rules across all sites. For the summer, we will not have onsite services. We’ll revisit this in September. If the 30% rule hasn’t changed, we probably won’t be back in September. Having services at 30% capacity and with no kids ministry doesn’t feel right to us. All our ministries, even for kids and youth, have turned online.

Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
We’ll have a staggered approach starting July 26. People will have to register online before they come. Around 300 will be able to come physically. The 1st stage is having the 9:00 service, with no children’s ministry, no coffee, and no lingering. It will be an in and out experience. We’ll be building on this as systems adapt. On September 2nd, we’ll add kids’ ministries, but we will still limit amounts of people. The primary method will still be online as we start taking steps to increase physical gathering options.

Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
We’ll be opening on August 9.

What kinds of changes to services will be implemented to ensure the safety of the congregation?


Pastor Charles Stone, West Park Church:
We are currently in the planning stage to finalize our strategy for changes in our services. We will develop extensive protocols and have purchased some hi-tech disinfectant devices. We have worked closely with our Middlesex London Health Unit ensuring compliance with social distancing and other regulatory processes.

Pastor Jude St. John, West London Alliance:
Along with following the 30% room capacity requirement, there are some additional changes. There will be no children's ministry offered. We ask that everyone wear a mask or face covering with the exception of those who have health issues that prevent doing this safely or for children two years old or younger. There will be a worship band, music, and songs, but there will be no congregational singing. We will be following all regulations and protocols that are required of us to operate including maintaining social distancing at all times.

Pastor Garry Fess, Royal View Church:
We’re putting policies together, aligning our goals with those of the medical office, and making sure we have sanitation procedures in place. We are adopting whatever the health unit is giving us. We won’t be taking temperatures, but people will have to register online to attend physical services. They will have to answer health questions, and will have to sign into the service they attend.

Pastor Matthew Eckert, North Park Community Church:
We’ve always had processes in place and hand sanitizer at the doors to keep people safe. Once vaccines are available that will change the picture. Once COVID blows over, we’ll be back to normal meeting as a community.

Pastor Rob Hogendoorn, Forest City Community Church:
We’ll have the 30% rule, ensure good social distancing, have seating for family units, and have good separation between family units and individuals. We will create clarity in the auditorium for distancing, and clarity on how people will move in and out of the auditorium. We’ll have cleaning protocols so that people can clean their hands, and we’ll ensure that surfaces are being wiped down. We’ll be working with the health unit to make sure we’re doing everything correctly.

Pastor Jon Korkidakis, Village Green Community Church:
Right now we’re thinking about how we can adhere to government protocol and expectations. We’re putting thought into seating arrangements, asking people to social distance, and having people use hand sanitizer as they come in and go out. We’re thinking about entry and exit points, and working with volunteers and putting expectations on them as part of this. We’re asking people to notify the elders if they plan to attend, and we’re giving priority to those who don’t have internet, and those who have been isolated, especially in the first few weeks. Children’s ministry won’t open for some time.

Pastor Phil Butler, Westview Baptist Church:
We plan to have worship by reservation. People will reserve a spot ahead of time so they won’t be turned away by reason of volume. We’ve been experimenting with how chairs will be set up. We’ll have people assigned to parking lots, and there will be screening at each entrance. People will sanitize their hands and mask up. They’ll enter and exit the sanctuary by different doors, so people entering and people exiting will never cross paths. Washrooms will be in use but limited to one person at a time. In terms of the worship service itself, it will be a shorter service, and we’re sorting out what music will look like. We’re hearing feedback that many of our people are enjoying the online services and don’t want to come back until it’s completely safe to do so.

We’re excited to see how London’s Christian community adapts to these challenges and how God will use this opportunity to strengthen our spiritual lives.

Interviews have been edited and condensed where necessary for greater clarity.






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