Faith communities praise Alberta's place-of-worship restrictions
CALGARY -- Inside Centre Street Church, the preacher couldn’t keep mention of COVID-19 out of his Sunday sermon.
The pandemic is almost inescapable — especially so in large facilities that rely on traffic, and lots of it.
The church, like most in the province, is allowed to remain open this month. Many are surprised tight restrictions announced by the province on Tuesday didn’t include a shutdown for places of worship.
At Centre Street, congregants are just happy to be allowed inside.
“Whether we have 10 people in there, whether we have 300 or potentially 400; those people need a place to go today to be fed spiritually,” communications pastor Pamela Aramburu said.
The church allowed in roughly 400 people Sunday. That’s a far cry from an attendance of about 2,300 when the building is full.
The government of Alberta is allowing a third of normal capacity at places in the province’s enhanced areas — like all of Edmonton and Calgary.
Health measures are still in place once inside.
“People need to pre-register so we ensure that we’re not going over the limit and so everyone knows what the expectations are as they walk into the space,” Aramburu said.
“You’re probably safer coming in here than you are going to the grocery store in some ways.”
But that’s a disputed point.
Some health experts argue spread is possible inside places of worship. You don’t have to scroll far on the provincial outbreak list to find churches. A number of deaths in the city of Calgary from the disease have been tied to worship services.
As a result of that, the St. Laurence Anglican Church has made the decision to stay closed.
“I don’t think the risk is worth the reward,” reverend Anna Greenwood-Lee said. “I think the centre of our faith is to love our neighbors, and right now 'loving your neighbour' means staying home and keeping them safe.”
Greenwood-Lee’s church is about a twelfth of the size of Centre Street. Even with reduced capacity, she believes it doesn’t allow room for safe social distancing.
“I don’t think (the provincial restrictions) go far enough,” Greenwood-Lee said. “The cases are soaring and they are heartbreaking.
“We’ve had two deaths this week from this congregation.”