Guidelines for worship in Saskatchewan have limited the number of individuals who can attend a service through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each church has had to adapt and adhere to the new guidelines, which includes a maximum gathering size of 30 per cent of capacity, up to 150 people, while finding new ways to provide its services to its congregation.
While some churches have had to reduce their congregation size due to COVID-19 restrictions, others like the Hope Congregational in Rocanville have been fortunate enough to keep their entire congregation due to it being below the provincial limit.
Head Pastor, Paul Bunz, says their biggest concern is the inability to be close to one another.
Bunz explained that despite the restrictions, they have been able to keep their services going through the pandemic.
“At this point, we’ve been able to keep these services going every Sunday with the amount of people we have. We also have Wednesday morning Bible study which continued and prayer meetings on Friday morning which has continued. Quite honestly we haven’t really noticed that much change except for some of the restrictions about wearing masks and our social distancing. That’s probably been the hardest for us, not because we can’t do it, but because we don’t believe that is what we should be doing,” Bunz explained. “I’m not quite convinced with myself that masks are that effective and social distancing really is as effective as we are lead to believe they are.”
Financially, however, Bunz says that their church has seen an increase in donations through the pandemic.
“Our givings have actually gone up, to be totally honest. Our offerings have actually gone up a fair amount since the start of COVID-19. We actually have had growth in the church as well. When COVID first hit, we didn’t close our doors at all. Some churches weren’t having services but we kept on having services and people coming who wanted to come to the Sunday morning service. That has certainly helped financially.”
Bunz did express concerns in regards to the inability to be close to one another, as the current health guidelines require a two-meter distance between households.
“We do Facebook live services every Sunday morning since the pandemic started. I think that will probably continue even after some of the restrictions are lifted. But that being said, I firmly believe that God created us as social beings right? And we need that personal contact with another being. That hug and a handshake and the fellowship. I think that’s really important and I think the biggest thing we struggle with is the lack of that, though we still do it.”
These restrictions had also previously made the church unable to hold its Fellowship Lunch.
“What we’ve done is we’ve followed the COVID-19 restrictions as much as we can when we think it’s not going against the word of God.” Said Bunz. “I think that it becomes an individual church’s decision. I know some churches think that it’s civil disobedience right from the start. I’m a firm believer in Romans 13, obeying the laws of the land, so if we can do that I think we need to do that. That being said if we are prepared to break the rules or do civil disobedience, then we need to be prepared to accept the consequences of the disobedience as well. If we’re not going to wear the masks, if we’re not going to social distance there could be consequences as well.”
“We have signs up to tell people to wear their masks, we have signs up telling people to sanitize their hands, and we’ve put down our chairs and put up our tables six feet apart. We’ve followed all that protocol. What I told them is that we will put the signs up, that we will have the masks and sanitizer here, but what I told them is that I am not a Saskatchewan Health Authority enforcer. I am not enforcing their restrictions. We ask people to follow them, but if they feel that they don’t want to then I’m not going to stand at my door and enforce people to wear masks.”
“They do wear masks on entering the building and they wear their masks when they leave, a vast majority of them at least. During our services, we don’t. Some do, but it becomes an individual choice really, which I am fine with. Like I said, I am not an enforcer and I won’t ask them to leave if they don’t wear a mask.”
Bunz adds that regardless of what restrictions are put in place, he has no intention to close the doors of his church.
“I just think that again, on a personal level at least as Pastor of a church, people just need to search their own hearts and do what they believe God is telling them to do,” Bunz said. “This church will not close. Regardless of what restrictions come, this church will not close down. Even if they tell us that we can’t have any services at all, it isn’t going to happen. I’ve said that since COVID-19 started, and that’s still my position, we will still have a Sunday morning service, we will not turn people away.”
Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator