When Ontario Conference’s directors and administrators first envisioned July 18’s Virtual Day of Worship, they had modest expectations. It would be nice, they figured, if churches and members from across the province were able to worship together after months of separation. They hoped the program would encourage members in a year in which the quinquennial General Conference Session of Seventh-day Adventists, as well as most major in-person Conference events, had been cancelled or postponed.
Far exceeding expectations, the program’s reach extended to Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, the U.S., Brazil, Canada and more. Within the first ten hours, YouTube views of the morning program reached 22,000, with 6,700 views for the evening program of music and praise, not accounting for families watching from one device, church restreaming on their YouTube channels or groups tuning in via Zoom. That day, God showed up and assisted our feeble human efforts.
Unbeknownst to many, this day almost didn’t happen. A few hours before the morning services were scheduled to stream, the Conference building’s electricity went out for nearly three hours. By God’s grace, the media team, comprised of Fifaliana Rakotoarison, Media manager, and Ashton Blake, IT/web developer, was able to enact a contingency plan. After some tense moments, they and Christelle Agboka, Communications director, breathed a sigh of relief once things were back up and running. All would agree with Sarah Gouda, executive secretary to the president, who assisted in these final moments—“I saw God’s hand first-hand during this weekend. God really came through."
At the end of June, directors worked together to organize the program and finalize participants. Then, at the beginning of July, the production process began. For the media team, the next few weeks were a flurry of putting the set together, scheduling and recording people and editing the finished product. Blake noted, “Due to the rapidly changing dynamics of the pandemic, we knew we had to [quickly] rise to the challenge of putting together a program that would draw Ontario Conference closer together.” Two weeks of long hours, sleepless nights and prayers later, what seemed impossible became possible.
Reflecting on the day, Ontario Conference president, Mansfield Edwards, said, “This was tremendous. Tremendous. And I’m deeply, deeply grateful.”
The thousands of comments streaming in throughout both services affirmed that viewers were also touched by the Day of Worship. Here are a few of the day’s highlights as noted by viewers:
Inclusive Sabbath School model (two segments for children, one for youth, one for adults). Viewers appreciated that children and youth were included in the Sabbath School section. One standout for children was a cartoon about the ten commandments, created/presented by Alden Cudanin of Willowdale Church and family. The adult Sabbath School panel aptly reminded viewers to see people through the eyes of Jesus, as candidates for His kingdom.
Marsha Ram—mission spotlight. The morning service included short mission videos from individuals and churches in our conference, highlighting their contributions throughout the pandemic. Many appreciated that of Marsha Ram, College Park Church member, who asked God to use her despite her 2019 cancer diagnosis. Just a month after completing chemotherapy, he inspired a colleague to approach her to do a daily Bible study by phone. The takeaway was that God can use us, regardless of our challenges, if we are willing.
Ontario Conference president, Mansfield Edwards’ sermon. His powerful message, “All for Us,” reassured listeners that everything God has done and will do, from salvation to the second coming, is for us. Whether a pandemic, moral decline, racism, classicism or economic uncertainty, nothing can separate us from His love. All He asks is that we come directly to the throne of grace and let Him in. “Amen and amen,” “preach preacher,” were some responses seen on the chat. One viewer, Sarah Lewis, even said, “Pastor Mansfield, I feel like the three apostles whose heart burned within them as they walked with Jesus that day to Emmaus.”
Special music. Music enhanced the worship experience throughout the day. Standouts in the morning were virtual children’s choirs, including Crawford Adventist Academy singing “It Will Get Better.” “Thanks, CAA, for the 2020 anthem!” noted an ecstatic attendee. Another was “Il Te Voit,” performed beautifully by Myrlande Labbe of Ottawa French following Edwards’ sermon, assuring viewers “Jesus sees you.” Overall, the music tied in well with the day’s goal of urging people, no matter the crisis, to look to Jesus and live.
Evening concert. Thousands of viewers returned for a virtual concert and praise session in the evening, produced by our multi-talented Adventurer, Master Guide and Pathfinder director, Edwin Martin. It featured a diverse set of songs and participants. Children again stole the show, particularly Sienna and Obrian, a brother and sister pair from Barrie Church who sang, played instruments and produced their own music video. Near the end of the evening, Deb Webber stated, “Now we can see why the Lord loved the little children. They worship from the heart. God bless them all.” Lucila Veliz noted, “We are getting spoiled and blessed today with this amazing concert!”
Also noteworthy was that the entire day was intentionally representative of the diversity we enjoy in our conference, featuring individuals of different ethnicities, ages and locales. “It was a true representation not just of our conference but of what I think heaven will look like,” said Youth director, John Scott. The notion of unity in diversity extended to the audience, as people of all nations, languages and backgrounds viewed the program from Ontario Conference’s YouTube channel.
Most would be surprised to know this was the Conference’s first run at such a program. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a strong first effort, especially given the media team’s unique challenge of balancing their creative vision with social distancing guidelines. Rakotoarison explained, “In all events that you do, there’s a learning curve. We have learned a few things, such as, for example, when you do something outdoors to be ready for the weather, for mosquitos! But we also learned that strong communications and planning were essential to make it happen. We grew as a conference through this event.”
Summing up the beauty of the day, Jennifer Waithe wrote, “Thank you for this service. I look forward to tuning in on Saturdays since the pandemic. Church services were discontinued due to social distancing, but God always finds a way to reach his people.”
Added “Young Ancient,” We must remember—we worship in different places, but we are one family!”
“What a wonderful worship experience. Let’s do it again!” said Lauris Watson-Robinson, echoing the sentiments of many.
When asked if they would do it again, taking what they had learned into consideration, the media team said, “Most definitely!”
Special thanks to everyone who helped to make this day a success, including Ontario Conference directors, administrators and support staff. From a Communications standpoint, I also thank Pastor Dauncey, It Is Written Canada’s new creative director, Rosalind Armstrong, Toronto Central Communications team member, Edwin Martin, Adventurer, Master Guide & Pathfinder director and Maria McClean, Health and Prayer Ministries director, for behind-the-scenes contributions including but not limited to moderating the thousands of comments streaming in from around the world.
If you didn’t catch the Virtual Day of Worship and would like to tune in, you can watch the morning program here and the evening program here. You may also watch it on our website.