Local churches and faith leaders adjust to restrictions ahead of Easter

·4 min read

With Easter approaching, churches across the South Peace are continuing to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions in different ways.

Under current restrictions places of worship are limited to 15 per cent capacity with physical distancing between households and mandatory masks.

Religious gatherings aren’t allowed in private homes and choir singing is allowed only as part of worship practices, not for entertainment.

Restrictions on places of worship may not be eased for another two weeks, if the province remains under 300 hospitalizations under Step 3 of the Alberta government’s plan.

“For the most part, the (restrictions) are fairly easy to follow,” said Greg Clark, BEAVERLODGE ALLIANCE CHURCH lead pastor.

“The biggest problem we have is normally on a pre-COVID Sunday, we would have up to 150 to 175 people, and with current restrictions we’re only allowed 45.

“Before this latest round of restrictions, quite a few of our people were meeting in each other’s homes and watching online, but now they can’t.

“It’s making community quite difficult.”

The Alliance Church runs one service each Sunday, streamed online as well, he said. Online pre-registration is required to attend.

Holding multiple services on a Sunday to reach more followers in-person would be time consuming for the volunteers, with 12 to 15 needed to run a service, he said.

Easter services would typically be among the church’s largest, with up to approximately 220 people, he said.

Clark said the church is exploring how to handle this year’s services.

To enforce social distancing, the church removed the pews and spread out chairs and tables, he said.

Clark said he would love to have larger gatherings and gatherings at home, but generally he supports the restrictions.

“We’re called to honour the authority over us … and we also want to love our neighbours, and that includes doing our best not to put people in danger,” Clark said.

Unlike the Alliance Church, GRACE BIBLE FELLOWSHIP in Sexsmith holds three services per week to keep under 15 per cent capacity, said lead pastor Jason Easterbrook. The building capacity is 500.

Attendees pre-register online before going to a service to ensure attendance is spread out, he said. One service is livestreamed over social media, he added.

There will be one or two services on Good Friday and one will be livestreamed, Easterbrook said.

“We’re excited about celebrating,” Easterbrook said.

“It’s a special time where we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection … (and) it’s so important to gather and to celebrate.”

Easterbrook said he’d eventually like to see everyone allowed to gather again under eased restrictions.

Meanwhile, BEAVERLODGE UNITED CHURCH hasn’t had difficulty enforcing capacity limits because services typically draw 20 to 30 people with a capacity for 200, said Cathy Given, one of the rotation of members leading services while the church waits for a new minister to arrive, she said.

The church is waiting for Dorcas Kanana Muketha who has faced delays moving to Canada from Kenya, Given said.

While capacity isn’t an issue, Given said the church still strives to keep its members safe.

“We are an aging population, so there are concerns about the wellness of the population,” Given said.

“There are a number of members who aren’t attend- ing services, so we’re doing our best to involve them in other ways.”

Given writes a weekly newsletter, she said.

The United Church is also setting up to livestream the services, she added.

In Sexsmith, the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHOLIC CHURCH is adjusting to the restrictions, said priest Jeyapaul Packiasamy.

“The only difficulty is we’re not able to get the whole congregation together at the same time,” Packiasamy said.

“Apart from that, we’re still happy the churches are still open.”

There are 50 to 60 families in the congregation, and the church holds three masses per week with approximately 25 at each service, he said.

The capacity would currently allow up to 30.

There are no virtual services because followers prefer to attend, Packiasamy said.

The church will use sign- up sheets to hold Easter services, he said. On March 17 the church will have Zoom invitations for a Lent-season prayer session, he said.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News