Through the smoke and laser lights, among a sea of hands raised and unified voices, lights shine on a stage illuminating a band. People sway back and forth, seemingly moved by something more than themselves.
This is not just another concert; it’s a spiritual gathering that takes place every week.
Known as The River Worship, this is Canada’s largest weekly Christian worship event held every Tuesday night at Canada Christian College in Whitby, Ont.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people from different denominations and faith backgrounds gather weekly to participate in this concert-like atmosphere.
Attendees sing along with on-stage worship leaders to popular modern Christian music from groups like Hillsong and Elevation. The worship period is followed by a speaker who gives a sermon.
The sermons are filmed as part of an online series with seasons and episodes. Each week is a different episode of the season, and seasons run for 10 weeks before they take a month’s break.
Pastor Ryan McVety, 34, initiated The River Worship in 2021, during a time when government health regulations were in effect, and people were not allowed to gather in groups. He said, “We sensed that there was a real longing for community and congregational worship.”
McVety, a self-titled “fifth generation pastor’s kid,” colloquially known as a ‘PK’, created the weekly worship event to appeal to young people and get them interested in church and the gospel.
He said the name “The River is an analogy for The Holy Spirit many times in Scripture.”
“The Bible talks about the Holy Spirit as a flowing river many times.” He said, “The point was we didn’t want to do this if the Holy Spirit wasn’t in it.”
McVety’s father, Charles, is the president of Canada Christian College, founded by the pastor’s grandfather, Dr. Elmer S. McVety, in the 1950s.
On the topic of funding, McVety said funding is sourced from attendees of The River Worship mostly in the form of small contributions from people who come and attend the worship nights.
“It’s a really welcome open environment for people to come in on a Tuesday night,” McVety said.
“So, is it church? Yeah, it is. Is it a formal church? No. Is it a concert? Yes, it is. But there’s no ticket cost. It’s a free concert where you come and worship God.”
McVety said, “Music plays a huge role in worship, and it’s not just here at the river.”
He said the Bible is filled with music, like the songs of David or from the book of Psalms.
He said, “Maybe it was with a harp, maybe it wasn’t with an electric guitar shredding and a drum kit. But the principles transcend and are similar. “
Oshawa’s Mayor, Dan Carter attended on Sept. 20, the opening night of the season.
He said his daughter was the first to bring him to the event. Since then, he said he has tried to come every week.
He said, “I’m a Christian. And I love to be in an environment where we see so many people, young and old, come together and to be able to celebrate their faith, learn, listen, and sing together.”
Carter, who comes from a Pentecostal background, said, “It’s a wonderful combination of a great message and an unbelievable worship time.”
Mark Harnum, 47, volunteers at The River Worship. He is a member of the “experience team.” His role on opening night was mainly as a door greeter.
He said he likes that they don’t ask for “ID” at the door. “They don’t say, What church are you from? What do you believe? Or any of that kind of stuff.”
Harnum said worship is like a form of meditation. It helps him clear his mind. He said, “It’s very therapeutic for mental health.” He said he’s been struggling with his mental health lately. He said, “It’s almost like a therapy night for me.”
Daniel Copper Meredith and his recently married wife Trista came for the opening night as well.
Meredith said, “When you’re worshiping the Lord, you’re in that mind-state. I want to surrender my hurt, my pain, my troubles, my sorrows to The Lord.”
He said, “Worship is the number one act of love towards God.”
The River Worship runs every week, from 7:30 p.m., at the event centre at the Canada Christian College until at least December this season.
“We have cool production and lights and all this stuff, but that’s not the meaning behind it. The meaning is truly the real river, which is the Holy Spirit,” McVety said.