For the Free Presbyterian Church of North America, 2020 began as years usually do—with prayer and plans. No one foresaw that less than three months into the new year, God would let a tiny virus affect the world in such a way that almost all those plans would be cancelled.
At the beginning of March the FPCNA Prayer Bulletin reported that Calgary FPC had just welcomed Rev. Paul Backhurst and his family and was looking forward to his installation on March 24. Rev. Ian Goligher was enjoying opportunities to give the gospel to hospital patients. Rev. Jason Boyle was traveling around Mexico meeting with men interested in forming a Free Presbyterian denomination in Latin America; he and Danielle were looking forward to deputation meetings in May in the U.S. (their first in ten years).
Faith FPC was planning for the Ministers’ Week of Prayer and presbytery meeting in May and for VBS in June. Dr. Pollock was asking for prayer for the youth camp in July. Orlando was waiting to hear whether Rev. Thomas Laverty had accepted its call, and the Bowmans were preparing the mission team for its trip to Liberia in August. Only the Toronto report mentioned something about the virus; students in the Whitefield Christian Schools had ties to some of the first countries affected.
The May/June issue of the Prayer Bulletin told an entirely different story. Mr. Backhurst’s installation had been put off indefinitely. Mr. Laverty had accepted the call of Orlando FPC, but he and the church were in limbo as they waited for travel restrictions to be lifted. Most of the ministers were preaching to cameras in empty churches. Visits to hospitals and even to homes had been prohibited. Deputation meetings, outreaches, the Ministers’ Week of Prayer, the spring presbytery meeting, vacation Bible schools, youth camp, special meetings, and the mission trip to Liberia—all had been cancelled.
But the story wasn’t all negative. Ministers and church people alike discovered different ways of doing things. They put Sermonaudio, Facebook, Zoom, Skype, and other platforms to good use for worship services, prayer meetings, Sunday school classes, session and committee meetings, and so on, and found that, while they were no substitute for assembling in person, the virtual meetings certainly made a difficult situation more bearable. They even brought unexpected blessings. People who had never entered the church buildings were regularly joining the online services. And some people who, because of distance or health weren’t normally able to attend prayer meetings, gladly joined in via Zoom and Skype.
Other Free Presbyterians found creative ways to use the internet. Rachel Huffman (Lehigh Valley) and Jacob Frank (Trinity) offered sacred concerts via Facebook and YouTube. Faith FPC joined forces with the Mexico City church to create a YouTube channel (Neighborhood Bible Club FPC) to give the gospel to Hispanic children all over the world. Faith FPC was also preparing a virtual VBS for posting on SermonAudio June 22–26.
By the end of May, many churches had begun to meet again in limited ways, praying for wisdom as they did so and encouraging all to be charitable towards those with differing views on the pandemic and its handling. They were grateful that even though some of the North American churches were in high risk areas, there were only a few suspected cases of the virus among them. Some people in the U.S. and Canadian churches suffered job loss, furloughs, or cutbacks in their hours. Brothers and sisters in the Latin American works and in the Liberian mission work suffered and continue to suffer great economic hardship. The presbytery is overseeing efforts to assist them.
Many ministers have noted an increased interest in the things of the Lord and a greater sense of unity, mutual love, and increased care of church members for each other. One minister pointed out that the virus brought a welcome pause in some of the outward expressions of men’s wickedness such as sodomite parades and night clubs. People have found new ways of witnessing to neighbors and of rebuilding family relationships. Some say the quarantine has given them time to settle down and be still before the Lord.
Our God, who does all things well, changed our plans for 2020.