Two pastors from the Prairie Mountain Health Region are sharing encouragement for Winnipeg churches now facing code orange restrictions. 

The region, including the city of Brandon, was placed under code orange restrictions on August 24, following a spike in COVID-19 cases. The restrictions have since been eased after a four week period, ending on September 18.

Wendy Thom is the Pastor at Shoal Lake Baptist Church in the Prairie Mountain Health Region. She shares what the environment has been like there.

"I know everybody's scared and that's the thing I try to address right away. We've been doing our services live stream. Families in our church gather together in their homes and listen along with us."

When COVID first started in March, the capacity was 10 people or less. Then, as the restrictions lessened, the church went to in-person services at 30% capacity, which included some families coming every other Sunday to even it out. Now they're back to live stream. 

"I started doing 3-4 minute long devotions and post those because we need connection. That's the biggest thing I've found, people are afraid and lonely. It's actually helped me a lot too in the long run."

Pastor Thom initially recorded these during the Code Orange restrictions but once she mentioned she would stop doing them, her congregation asked her not to.

"The biggest thing is making connections with people during this time. Doing this for others has made me delve into the Word more."

She has risen earlier over the past few weeks to spend extra quiet time with the Lord.

"I think that's important in all of this. Who is God? God is love, God is just, and God is righteous. Can we trust Him? He's altogether trustworthy and faithful, yes, we can trust Him."

This focus on God, what He can do, and connecting with others is the key, according to Pastor Thom.

"This takes a lot of the fear away. When the fear is gone, your mind is clearer, and you're able to treat each other better."

Since they've lessened restrictions, some people have kept up with the protocols. 

"Some are still wearing their masks," shares Pastor Thom. "If I go into the grocery store I wear my mask because it's flu season and I care about the guys and girls that work there. We try and take care of each other."

Another pastor that was affected by these restrictions is Glenn Ball, at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Brandon. They have been doing online services with another church since March. 

"We were planning on moving towards in-person worship but we postponed that again. We haven't gone back yet and just waiting to see how things change in the future," says Rev. Ball.

Brandon's Presbyterian pastors have done one service collectively during the pandemic.

"The two Presbyterian churches in town have worked together so one minister does the preaching, one does the prayers. We have lay people from either congregation doing Scripture, children's story and things along that line."

The churches email or mail sermon scripts to those who either cannot attend online or don't have any access to the internet.

"What I have been finding is that the creativity of people to respond to the crisis has been amazing. We have elders who passed the sermon on to their friends, we have people who do worship with their grandchildren on the phone, and we're finding our connections are much stronger. We have people taking part with our worship service that we haven't been able to reach in a long time. I find it refreshing."

Rev. Ball says that overall, Prairie Mountain Health Region is doing much better since the restrictions recently lifted. 

"Yes, I miss being in front of people and the challenge of leading worship on a weekly basis. But I'm seeing the hand of God at work that is reviving the congregations."