Just over a year since the pandemic hit Manitoba, rural churches are recounting what it's been like and how radically things have had to change.

Pastor Andy Woodworth is the lead pastor at Heartland Community Church in Landmark, Man. 

"Compared to others I think we are doing okay. I know of churches that are doing better and churches that are struggling to a greater degree right now," says Woodworth.

They offer their service over Facebook Livestream. 

"When things started a year ago there was the immediate coming together and bracing for the forecasted impact of the pandemic. Then when it wasn’t an immediate catastrophe, we had the tensions around what we should and shouldn’t be doing, fuelled by emotion with all the information and misinformation circulating around."

The pandemic wasn't the only thing that caused churches in general last year to pivot, change, and speak out. 

"Just as we were re-opening in June we had the social justice uprisings and again tensions escalated over how the church should be responding to issues of social inequality and racial tensions."

A year later, Woodworth shares that many people are simply tired and frustrated.  

"Some want desperately to return to what was while others want to desperately return to anything but what was - because they see how complacent they had grown in their faith prior to COVID. Then there are those who have just given up on church and I doubt we’ll see them return, and that is disheartening because they were friends and part of our church community," says Woodworth.

Pastor Darryll Wurch has been leading St Ouens Country Church just outside of Beausejour, Man. since 2008. Wurch and his wife were pastors in California before this.

"It has been a challenge shutting the doors of the church and not meeting as a congregation. All of a sudden we had to learn how to be online."

Wurch says he's not good with computers which made this situation a bigger learning curve to get services online. 

"It was a struggle at first to look at this little red light and camera lens and share. It's really nice to look at the faces of the congregation because you feed off that."

The energy from people listening in person is something that technology cannot replace, according to Wurch.

"It's really by faith when you're looking into that camera. Our worship has found that to be the same thing. They said it seems more like a performance than just worshipping God, which has been a challenge." 

The pandemic restrictions lifted just enough to have some people in the building, spaced apart, in the past few weeks.

"When they did get the opportunity to get back together, it was amazing. The whole church really appreciates being able to get together and love one another, encourage one another in person."

St Ouens has in-person church services now, but also broadcasts online as a few congregants are in the medical field and therefore need to isolate or watch how much they go out. 

"We have definitely had to arrange how we do a service differently. All in all, things are good."

Wurch has seen his church grow over the pandemic. Hosting Bible services during the week online has drawn more people from outside the community. 

"It's more transparent. People are more engaged and they can ask questions. I think our congregation as a whole that has really pressed in on this has grown."