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Midland church looking for new digs as flock keeps growing

River of Life pastor declined to discuss speculation a church swap with another congregation might be in the works

A Midland church is dealing with a problem some religious institutions might envy.

The River of Life Pentecostal Church is looking for new digs after outgrowing its current Eighth Street footprint.

While COVID-19 might have hit some churches harder than others in maintaining parish numbers as some shied away from Zoom services, the River of Life has seemingly grown.

“When I came here we had about 40 people and the week before COVID-19, we had 200 come out and we were doing two services,” said Pastor (Rev.) Thom Burke. “I’ve never been in a community where people love God, love the church and love each other as much.”

Burke declined to discuss the possibility his church is looking at swapping buildings with a larger church in Midland’s downtown core.

“It’s still all in the works, still in the process,” he noted. “It’s a big move either way. At this point, I can't really say anything, because I don't have anything to say.”

Instead, Burke opted to focus on his church and how it’s grown since he arrived 3 ½ years ago.

“There are a lot of young families joining our church,” he said, pointing out while they currently have two Sunday morning services, a third Sunday evening service has also now been added.

“The Lord’s been good to us.”

The church regularly seats about 120 people in the nave, but due to COVID-19 has had to space parishioners out more and even added chairs not far from the chancel to accommodate as many people as possible.

“The pastor before me built a great church,” Burke said, noting a popular children’s program has also helped make the church a bigger draw from the 40 parishioners who attended when he arrived.

“There’s a real sense of family in the church. We have a lot of young families joining our church, we're really blessed. So that's really the reason we just needed more space. It's a good problem.”

Burke said that while COVID-19 created a pause, things got back into full swing once restrictions were lifted to again allow in-person religious services and he expects even greater growth once all restrictions are finally lifted.

“When COVID came, we had about 20 young families and our men's ministry had grown dramatically,” he said. “And we keep growing. We just keep adding more and more people."

And should the rules remain as they are, Burke expects to add a fourth service come November at the church, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, to ensure there’s space for all parishioners and the band that shares the chancel stage.

“So, doing four and five services may sound nice, but it's not, trust me,” he said. “We’d rather have a big service. It’s a lot of work, not so much for me, I mean it’s the same sermon. The big issue is the kids’ program because we have a lot of kids so that becomes a problem getting all the workers for the program.”

As well, Burke said there are also those who help with services.

He added: “We probably have two or three worship teams going (now). If we have four services that becomes kind of the main issue.”

Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Community Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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