2023 Lent Newsletter Excerpt

An Ice Age of COVID Restrictions

By Pastor Steve Berkenpas, Lead Pastor

One of the most helpful articles I came across during COVID came within the first few weeks of lockdown. While most churches were hoping to be back to the swing of things by Easter, Andy Crouch authored an article called “Leading Beyond the Blizzard.” My summary of the article is: most people think that this will be like a blizzard where you simply wait it out and then we will resume to ‘things as normal’ once it is done. Andy had the insight to say that this would not simply be a blizzard. But he went even further in saying this would be different than a winter – a time where we temporarily adjust what we do – and then go back to normal in the spring. Instead, he suggested we should be thinking of COVID as an ice age. This was because an ice age is long enough for practices to change and evolve. Ice ages occur over a long enough time for culture to change. We don’t just return to things as normal afterwards, but we have new practices because of the experience we all went through.

I want to take a moment to reflect on the past three years with this mindset: to reflect on some of the new skills that we have learned and the positive changes that we have encountered. So often the focus is on the negative ways that the church has been impacted. We should be addressing those things as well, and it is certainly something that gets discussed. But for now, I want to see what happens when we take stock of some of the useful changes that took place to help us appreciate what has changed. I will also focus on the practical changes rather than some of the broader cultural changes.


  1. Video Conferencing – Whether it is Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime – many of us learned new words during COVID that spoke to the popularity of this thing more broadly called video conferencing. Video calls are no longer a trick young people use to connect one on one. Video calls are now being done regularly by groups of people of all ages. An example of this new practice is that I often hear in my visits that people in their eighties and nineties having sibling ‘get togethers’ across the continent and the world.  At Living Hope we have done congregational meetings, staff meetings, committee meetings, and prayer times through video conferencing. Our Community Flourishing Cohort is an example of a benefit we’ve had from this change. Throughout this cohort eleven churches across North America can now gather in a meaningful way and share how we see God at work in our communities throughout the year in a way that was not being done just a few years ago.
  2. Social Media – Before the pandemic, Living Hope rarely used its Facebook account and had no Instagram account. These are now platforms that we regularly update and are a consistent way of getting information out about events for our church and broader community. We have learned how to use our digital spaces better. This has been a change that will have lasting benefits.
  3. Livestream Attendance – We offered a livestream service before the pandemic so that has not changed. But what has changed is how readily people can use it. If you are unable to attend a service, or several services due to health reasons, there is now an option of tuning in online – accessible to all generations. While this may have some long-term side effects on in-person attendance at the church, the focus here will be on the positive side of that change: where it used to be only a few people who would tune in online (and often only with the help of children or grandchildren) now there is the ability for nearly everybody to tune in.
  4. Giving – We had a significant shift towards giving online. While many people still drove to the church to drop off cash or cheques, many others gave through our website. This trend corrected itself a little when we transitioned back to in-person gatherings, but it looks like the practice of giving online is here to stay for others. This, too, is a positive change. For the upcoming generations who never use cash or cheques, giving at the church through mediums that mean little (using cash or cheques) might not actually be the best way forward. By having good options for giving online, the church moves its way towards a method of giving that makes more sense for people who deal with their finances digitally.  As I have commented in the past, this has the negative side effects of moving giving out of the context of worship and of making giving less visible for our children. Overall though, I see the trend as positive. Now giving is done in the context that makes the most sense for those who deal with their finances online. Creative work will need to go into ensuring that we still see giving as worship, and that our children are part of the giving process in some way for those of us who have ‘gone digital.’


While the first four are fairly obvious changes, I also wanted to include some changes that happen behind the scenes. Here are a few more examples that you may not have seen or thought of if you were not part of the day-to-day work here at Living Hope.

  1. Livestream Tech – Amazingly, Living Hope had a phenomenal livestream set up before the pandemic. Our recent sanctuary renovation meant that we were one of the few mid-sized churches in the area not struggling to keep up with tech innovations on that front. Yet, we did have some significant changes. We added a separate mixing room so that our livestream audio was improved. We also transitioned to ProPresenter for presenting media as it has a superior system for livestream presentation. These are things you might not notice from home as much, but they are tech decisions that have made a lasting impact. Compared to most churches, the changes that we made regarding the livestream itself were minimal, but a lasting change has been made in our use of both the separate mixing room and the use of ProPresenter.
  2. Internet – Our internet was significantly improved thanks to Irene and Mitch. As a greater emphasis went on our online streaming, we needed faster internet. We were able to do this without extra cost.; we actually saved money on our plan overall as the pandemic gave us a time where we could re-prioritize how we use our phone lines and internet. This too is a change that we will enjoy the benefits of for years to come.
  3. Digital File Sharing – While this was in the works beforehand, working from home accelerated the staff’s use of cloud file sharing. This is a much more efficient and effective way of sharing our documents with each other. Now that we’ve transitioned to this method of sharing our files, we can see changes as they are being made to the documents – we will not go back to the old way of just attaching documents to our emails. Again, this change has been positive.


This is just a list of seven things, it could go on much longer and there is much to be said about broader cultural changes both positive and negative. What I want to highlight here is simply that even in the midst of something that seemed confusing and challenging for us as a church, there were things learned and there were benefits that we have today because of it. Even more than that, we can see and name God at work in the midst of these things as well. This is just one of the ways that God used something that was damaging in so many ways and was able to bend it towards His good purposes.

What about yourself? Think back to life three years ago. Have there been some major changes? Have you learned some new skills that you will continue to use in the years to come?

I know some people really appreciated the slower pace that came alongside the restrictions. Have we been able to learn from that and adopt a slower pace, or are we back to where we were before? Others have reflected that it changed how they did discipleship in the home. When they didn’t go to a church service, it meant that more conversations happened in their household. Has there been a change in how you see discipleship in your home or in your own life over the past 3 years?