Weeks after welcoming their newborn baby girl into the world, Roberta and Mark Roslund anticipate another birth this September — a new church scheduled to open next weekend.
The Roslunds, whose daughter Rome was born on Sept. 3, will launch Rose Church with an online service at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 27.
"The goal was never to gather a bunch of people," Mark, 28, says of their new digital ministry at www.rosechurch.ca.
"The goal was to bring hope to the city."
The Edmonton born-and-bred couple moved to Winnipeg five years ago for Mark to take up a pastoral position at Riverwood Church and Roberta to study social work at Booth University College.
The theology graduates of Vanguard College in Edmonton, an institution of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, have dreamed of planting a church for eight years.
"I think we’re trying to make it relatable to people who haven’t grown up in church," says Roberta, 27, of their target demographic for Rose Church.
"People ask us who we are trying to reach, and we’re literally trying to reach everyone," adds Mark.
Over the last year, the Glenelm residents have developed a plan to start the non-denominational Christian church, gathering supporters, building a website, and developing a publicity strategy for their September opening in rented space at a movie theatre.
They also raised most of their budget target of $216,000 to cover salaries, equipment, other startup costs.
Then the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, suspending large group gatherings, and the Roslunds were forced to come up with a new plan that didn’t involve face-to-face worship services in a rented venue.
With the help of Association of Related Churches, an international church-planting organization with offices in Langley, B.C., they modified their strategy, delaying in-person gatherings until 2021 to focus on their online ministry.
"This was a game-changer," says ARC coach Jono Zantingh of Edmonton, one of four overseers of Rose Church.
"We’ve never experienced anything like this of planting a church during a pandemic."
As part of their training with ARC, Zantingh met with the Roslunds in Vancouver for a three-day intensive church-planting workshop just weeks before the pandemic shutdown, and then the three of them spent the next two months developing different options for Rose Church.
"They’ve been incredibly creative and good stewards of the limitations on them during a global pandemic," he says of the Roslunds.
All religious groups are facing challenges during the pandemic because of limitations on group sizes, but newer churches without their own buildings have the added complication of being shut out of their rental spaces, says Zantingh, a former pastor at Springs Church in Winnipeg.
He founded Evolve Church in the south end of Edmonton two years ago and had to find a new space for the congregation of 400 after their Sunday morning venue closed during the lockdown.
‘We’ve had people since March who have drifted away from church, but we have three or four families who have connected in the last month," he says of what has happened during the last six months.
For the founders of Rose Church, meeting virtually may not have been their first choice, but the digital-only format provides a way for people to check them out online.
"There’s such an opportunity because people are feeling really lonely and isolated," explains Roberta, now on maternity leave from her social work job.
"We can still help people feel connected. It’s so accessible since everyone has a (smart)phone."
The couple remains optimistic about the future their new church, recognizing that dealing with unexpected challenges will be their new mantra, both as new parents and as pastors of an emerging congregation.
"We’re working hard to take it day-by-day and not have any expectations. If we’re online for a year, we’re online for a year," says Mark.
"We’re fighting hard not to be seen as a traditional (church) but as a digital ministry startup."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.