In the spring of 2019, Roblin Wesleyan Church (RWC), a rural church of around 300 attendees in Roblin, Ontario, responded in godly obedience to plant Parkway Church in the more populated Amherstview, Ontario.
Sending 50 people, along with its youth pastor, Pastor Dustin Crozier, RWC made great sacrifices, both financially and emotionally.
“We felt heavily the empty nest syndrome,” said Bert McCutcheon, RWC senior pastor. “We’re excited for our ‘child’ and to reconnect with them and hear about the adventures they’re taking. There was a huge sense of excitement in sending them, and then they were gone, and it’s been nearly two years now, and we’re still in a sort of form of depression.”
Pastor Bert is confident that the plant was a direct act of obedience, saying, “God raised up a people to do it. We are now the people to do it again. When it came to letting people go, when it came to letting finances go, it is God’s kingdom, it is God’s money, they are God’s people.”
Quickly seeing a growth to over 100 people, Parkway Church was steadily making progress in the community.
Without a building to call its own, Parkway was meeting in a local school or in parks and was able to immerse itself in the community in creative ways: baptisms at the local beach, small groups in coffee shops, men’s breakfast at a local restaurant.
“Canada is almost a full generation removed from church being anybody’s normal lifestyle, so all of our events and services being in a neighborhood was awesome,” said Pastor Dustin, who now serves as senior pastor at Parkway Church. “We were really thankful to have all of our stuff right in town, and we felt like the township we were in and the unbelievers around us were rooting for the new church plant in the neighborhood.”
And this community connection was just what Parkway Church was after, with a vision they summed up as “Jesus, community and movement.”
Less than a year after the plant, COVID struck, and Parkway Church is still feeling its effects.
While parts of the United States are opening back up, Ontario is experiencing some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in North America, with residents limited to seeing only the people in their immediate household.
Pastor Dustin said the adjustments to COVID-style churches have been difficult, perhaps especially for new church plants.
“It’s not like I could go on Amazon and order a church-planting-during-a-pandemic book,” said Pastor Dustin. “But our denomination, our district, our leadership, our district superintendent, our church planting director have been very supportive. But they know we’re all entering into uncharted territory.”
Despite the setbacks, Parkway was able to quickly develop an online presence to accommodate for COVID lockdowns.
“They were able to pivot to an online presence quickly,” Pastor Bert said. “That was so important, and it’s now super important to have maintained because things could have fallen apart so easily.”
And while COVID has limited what people — and the church — can and cannot do, Pastor Dustin said that COVID has put a spotlight on churches in a more “post-Christian” Canada unlike ever before.
“With all of these churches going online, it was all of the sudden on the news. And people didn’t know that there have been churches doing this for years, but because of COVID, there were news reports that ‘churches are being creative,’” Pastor Dustin said.
As Canada continues to grow tighter with lockdowns, Pastor Dustin believes that the online presence many churches have created and the steps people of faith continue to take to stay connected are ways in which God is preparing believers for what’s next.
“I really feel that COVID might actually be preparing us for something that is going to be a lot harder 10 or 15 years from now,” Pastor Dustin said. “Maybe God was trying to call us out of some of that normal and help us become something a little different in the process. I want normal back just like anybody else, but God, if you’re trying to teach me something through this and teach your church something because you don’t want us to be unprepared when things might get a little harder in North America than it has been, Lord, help me to say yes to that, as hard as it is.”
Pastor Bert holds no regrets about “losing” some people at the church he leads, because Roblin gained so much more.
“There is a tremendous sense of support for Parkway from Roblin,” said Pastor Bert. “[There is an] interesting mix of sadness in having sent friends and sometimes even family members to this new work but also a sense that it was the right thing to do.”
Pastor Dustin is encouraged by what God is doing at Parkway.
“It’s been awesome to see God working in our church plant.,” said Pastor Dustin. “We have seen people that have been disconnected from church return and some take part, that have previously never attended. Four people prayed to receive Christ at Parkway before the pandemic.”
Amid the COVID-19 challenges, media teams from both churches have partnered with each other to learn and serve. The teams have been trading knowledge and skill sets on how to best use media when attending in-person church in Canada is presently scared.
“I think that we have seen people ignited for ministry in a way that was exciting and special, in a way that is unique when you start a new work in a community,” said Pastor Dustin. “It’s been awesome to see that as people are faithful, God responds in kind, by drawing people to the work that he is doing. All praise goes to the King.”
Even amid shutdowns in Canada, the future is looking bright for these two churches forever connected.
Micah Kimball is a freelance writer.