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'Church redefined:' Places of worship adapt to COVID-19 restrictions
CALGARY -- This weekend will mark the first that places of worship in Calgary are allowed to have in-person service since being forced to close in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Monday, they’ve been allowed to reopen, with some restrictions.
And just like the relaunch for restaurants and bars, many are opting out of the early opening stages.
“We are not opening this week because our space does not allow our entire congregation to be here,” said Anne Yates-Laberge with Hillhurst United Church.
“We measured and ... we usually fit about 250 and now (under the new restrictions) we can fit about 20.”
Those new restrictions have some other places of worship questioning if reopening is currently worth the trouble.
According to provincial guidelines, gatherings must be limited to 50 people or one-third of their normal worship service attendance; whichever is smaller.
Social distancing rules must also be obeyed, and singing or after-service snacks or coffee aren’t allowed.
At Hillhurst, the age and design of the building make it difficult not to have overcrowding.
“Even passing each other in a hallway or a staircase, the measurements just aren’t there to be safe within the same space,” Yates-Laberge said. “It’d be church redefined.”
Instead, that community will stick to online worship services for now.
“We don’t want that homecoming to be some of our people, we want to be all of our people,” she said. “The root of our congregation is relationships.”
When it comes to reopening in Calgary, it seemed the larger churches fared much better.
St. Michael’s Catholic Church is large enough to allow for social distancing.
Weekday masses have been happening there since Monday, but the 50-person capacity rule means (free) tickets are the only way inside. Those were handed out out days in advance and this Sunday’s tickets were gone by Wednesday.
That means for St. Michael’s, online mass is still the most popular means of worship.
Inside the Dashmesh Culture Centre Sikh Temple in the northeast, everyone is marked in and out to monitor capacity.
“We have volunteers that are taking care,” said Amanpreet Singh Gill. “They’re counting and taking names and taking times so we can track (how many people are inside).”
The temple is open throughout the day and night to allow community members to filter in for prayer without any crowding.
“It is tough, but this is what it is,” Gill said. “We have to be safe.”