Over the last 12 months, churches in Manitoba have seen significant changes and have been forced to adapt quickly. But they've also seen and shown love and unwavering faith while facing the pandemic head-on.

As churches saw changing restrictions, the community didn't let physical distancing keep them from being good neighbours to one another.

Community strength

As churches in Manitoba met online, Christians became the hands and feet of Jesus. One couple, best known as the Soup Fairies, gave meals to people isolating due to COVID-19.

"It's not easy times for people. We've had some folks who've passed from COVID and we're delivering soup to their families. There are some people who've been pulled out of retirement to work frontline in nursing so we're delivering soup to them as well," Paulette Côté said earlier.

Paulette Côté and Peter Czehryn, also known as Winnipeg Soup Fairies. (Supplied)Paulette Côté (left) and Peter Czehryn (right) make their food at St. Mary's Road United Church. (Supplied)

Joan van der Linde, a former pastor in Morris, Man., took giving daily bread to the next level.

Pioneer Camps Manitoba's Sharon Steward found ways to give food hampers to families in need. Children were encouraged in their faith with dance marathons and toy drives.

Manitoban Christian artists, such as Steve Bell, The Color, and Jordan St. Cyr shone through in 2020.

A church spent the deep freeze in February handing out supplies to people on the street.

"For us to just be the church, that does something to yourself too. Your heart just becomes so full and doing just what the Lord is wanting us to do," Pastor Marty McLean said.

Pastor reflections

Restrictions may have brought tough conversations and separated congregations, but the church community continues to thrive. Some churches went online for the first time, reaching people in new ways.

"We have learned how to do live streaming much better than we ever thought we could and we are so pleased that so many areas in our church ministry are using this technology and using it very effectively," Pastor Bruce Martin of Calvary Temple in Winnipeg says.

(Calvary Temple)Pastor Bruce Martin is encouraged by the people at Calvary Temple. (Calvary Temple)

Martin says the efforts are "unbelievable" of their children's ministry.

"I happen to know because my grandkids never want to miss."

His church is remaining closed due to the 100 person capacity limit. Calvary Temple sees thousands of parishioners normally but felt only allowing six per cent of people into their church was unfair. Moving online has allowed the church to reach people across the world.

"I am encouraged by all the things we have learned. It caused me to slow down long enough to take time to reach out to people in our church and phone people. I am just very, very encouraged by what we have learned."

Rev. Dr. Mark Doerksen, a regional minister with Canadian Baptists of Western Canada says looking after the mental wellness of his pastors has been crucial. 

"The whole notion of what does it mean to remain connected in the midsts of mainly video connections," Doerksen says has been an especially important piece of the puzzle, noting that pastors have needed to learn new skills in the past year.

They have been focussing on what churches can do, not what they cannot. He has found churches across Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been more aware of the needs of others.

"I think churches are usually good at the 'looking out for the other' and I think this awareness has increased over COVID."

He is interested to see how many people return to the pew, and how many new people will visit for the first time once the pandemic is over.

Manitoban church restrictions

Locals needed to hold onto their faith as wavering restrictions caused debates between churches.

On March 30, it was announced for the first time that places of worship were being restricted to 10 people at once, starting on April 1,

Many churches embraced online worship, and a prayer group held drive-in gatherings - something that was quite unique at the time.

On May 25, places of worship were permitted to have worship gatherings once again at a maximum of 25 people indoors, and 50 outdoors.

At the time, Pastor Vern Martin from Lowe Farm's Emmanuel Gospel Church was filled with joy to see people in person.

"We really missed one another. Obviously, it's been harder to visit with people and minister to one another. So this was a really good morning," Martin said.

Bible camps opened as day camps, and campaigns ran to raise funds.

While the fall brought more restrictions as cases spiked in the province and Christmas looked very different than most years, churches continued to reach out online. As of March 6, churches could open at 25 per cent capacity.

Doerksen says pastors are looking ahead, wondering what is in store for the faith community post-pandemic.

"What does the church look like after COVID? So we have tried to facilitate some conversations and ideas around that."

Universal leanings on the Lord

Studies from around the western world all found one thing in common for believers since the pandemic: for the most part it helped strengthen faith.

At the start of the pandemic, The Joshua Fund found many non-Christians considered the pandemic a "wake-up call." 

Manitobans contributed to the world-wide reach, with a men's Bible study leader being surprised at their pond-jumping participation, and a pastor's Christmas carols reached thousands.