Some Windsor-area churches are stopping in-person worship services just weeks before Christmas to help the fight against surging COVID-19 cases in the region.
The move means no Christmas services at these churches and comes as the region is on the verge of heading into a total lockdown. It came the same day a record 127 new cases were announced by public health.
An announcement was made Wednesday in an open letter signed by ministers of 16 churches across the region. It was written by Rev. Robert Clifford, Rector of All Saints Anglican Church and Rev. Rielly McLaren, a pastor at Windsor Mennonite Fellowship. It says the churches will use online and other "alternative methods of worship."
"It's not the same. We love gathering and we miss gathering, but we're finding new ways of doing it," said Clifford
"We are suspending those worship services as an act of love to the community, in compliance with requests from our public health authorities who we see as talented and smart folks that know better than we do."
Clifford said on-site worship services have already been suspended at his church, but support and food security programs are continuing.
He also said that although he is saddened by the restrictions as the region in the "red" zone, he says it doesn't take away from the actual holiday.
"While we do love gathering and worshipping and singing and lighting candles and being together to pray and do all of those things, just because they don't happen, doesn't mean that Christmas doesn't happen and that God isn't revealed to us," he said, adding that the church also didn't get to celebrate Easter in-person either.
Sarah Jarvis, a parishioner of All Saints Anglican Church, said she's celebrating Christmas alone physically this year, by choice, and will be celebrating the holiday virtually with friends.
"I'm very sad that we can't gather in person. I'm a member of the choir and I've missed that since March. I miss everybody terribly much. But I also have immunity issues. So you know what? The church is a two hundred year old building. The church is also right here. The church is right here in my little spare bedroom," she said.
"And if it's what we have to do for everybody to be safe, then it's what we have to do. It's fine. We will be fine."
Jarvis said Christmas will be different this year, but it's "what we make of it."
"It is about love. It's about sharing and it's about making of it what we will in many ways," she said.
"I'll be watching church online and it's going to be fine. It's for here and now. And we'll do it together, but separately and we'll be fine. And then we'll look forward to next year for better things."
Members of congregation joining online
Others, like Larry Duffield, another parishioner of All Saints Anglican Church, says he's upset about not having the in-person experience.
"It's terribly disappointing. I mean, part of the reason that we attend All Saints is because it's a beautiful historical structure in downtown Windsor. We love the structure. We love the building. And we love the religion," he said, adding that despite his disappointment, he understands the church's decision to move services online.
"It's not the same thing as going. The music isn't there to provide the accompaniment and embellish the whole atmosphere and ambience, but the basic service obviously can be delivered online," he said.
Duffield also said that although he experiences issues with technology, it's still manageable, but looks forward to attending church in-person in the near future.
"Let's just obey the rules, get this thing under control and let's get back to whatever is the new normal," he said. "We've got to play by the rules first to make sure that we beat this thing."
Other faith groups invited to join
Clifford said he trusts health officials and urges the community to follow the recommended public health guidelines. He also invites faith leaders of other religions to join him in limiting in-person gatherings and celebrating the holidays safely.
Churches that will also hold online worship services include:
North Leamington United Mennonite Church in Leamington.
St. James' Anglican Church in Windsor.
The Parish of St. Stephen's and Church of the Redeemer in Tecumseh.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church in Windsor.
University Community Church in Windsor.
Windsor Heritage Catholic Family of Parishes in Windsor.
Exchange Church in Windsor.
Lifeline Church in Windsor.