A Thunder Bay church is using technology to reach out to parishioners in an era of declining congregations.

Trinity United Church is using video conferencing technology to bring Sunday services to other communities and transmits its services from Pinegrove United in Oliver-Paipoonge. The project allows both churches to lead parts of the same service.

mi-randy-boyd-300

Trinity United Church minister Randy Boyd. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

"Church attendance is declining and we have all these buildings, and all these congregations, and so we've had to go through a process of trying to vision how we can re-structure," said Randy Boyd, the minister at Trinity.

This past weekend, Grace United in Nipigon also joined the project.

Grace United lost its full-time minister earlier this year and lay minister Glena Clearwater, who has been leading some of its services since, said she liked what she saw.

"We had a very good turnout, and everybody was very pleased with it," she said.

"The volume was very good, so that everybody could hear everything, and on the large screen are all the words to every hymn, so it was very good that way."

Issue of resources

Each church has a big screen, a data projector and a video-conference unit. From there, the churches share in producing the service.

The organist at one church starts playing a hymn, while words appear on screen and people in all churches sing along. Other parts of the service, including scripture readings, prayers and the sermon are shared among all those who participate.

To get the project rolling Trinity received a $35,000 dollar grant from the United Church of Canada for the project, adding to the $20,000 the congregation raised through donations.

Boyd said it’s an investment the church needs to make as it restructures in the face of changing demographics of parishioners and funding for ministers is cut back. Amalgamating congregations isn’t always the answer.

"Trinity really believes that there's a place even for small neighbourhood churches, and yet there's an issue of resources," Boyd said.

It makes sense for churches like Pinegrove, which has a half-time student minister, and Grace United, which doesn't have a minister, he added.

For parishioners like Larysa Turko, the new format for church services has been a positive experience.

"I personally like it," she said. "I think it's fun and interactive and interesting. So the service comes more alive to me."

Boyd said Broadway United on Thunder Bay's south side has also been testing the project.