Keep your kippah, bring a bag lunch for the community meal, or just stay home and worship online.
Those are the messages Winnipeg’s religious communities are sending out regarding this weekend’s services in light of Manitoba restrictions on gatherings of more than 250 people.
Saturday morning Shabbat services were planned to go ahead as scheduled at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, with a few modifications, said executive director Ian Staniloff.
The service will move from the small chapel to the larger sanctuary to give people more room to spread out, the Torah scrolls will not be paraded through the aisles to prevent people from spreading germs, and men wearing a kippah provided by the synagogue are encouraged to take them home.
All services are already livestreamed, and the synagogue may move to have everyone watch from home instead of attending in person, said Staniloff.
"As long as we’re healthy, we will conduct services here alone and broadcast them," he said of future plans.
On Friday, Manitoba Islamic Association cancelled its prayer services, education classes and social events at the Grand Mosque (Waverley Street) and Pioneer Mosque (Hazelwood Avenue) until further notice. Officials cited the high incidence of international travel among its constituents and the close proximity of people at prayers.
"Our congregants represent a challenging demographic (with) frequent travel overseas, lots of kids in programs, carpets, culture of handshakes and hugs, and worship in close proximity to each other," MIA president Idris Elbakri wrote in an email.
Denominational leaders across the country issued statements and protocols Friday, asking for prayers for those infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, and modifying practices around the serving of communion, suspending church potlucks meals in favour of brown-bag lunches, and having ushers hold on to the offering plate instead of passing it person to person.
(For details about specific practices or cancellations, contact your local congregation or check out the denominational websites.)
Winnipeg’s two Roman Catholic dioceses issued a joint pandemic protocol Friday afternoon, asking parishes to stop using wine chalices for communion, to empty and sanitize holy water fonts, and disinfect worship spaces after each service. Parishes are also requested to prepare a team of people to conduct Sunday liturgies, in case the parish priest falls ill.
For the first time in recent memory, Calvary Temple cancelled its three Sunday services, which attract up to 2,000 people, but will livestream its worship service in real time, said pastor Bruce Martin.
"We’re sacrificing something we love to do for the benefit of others," said Martin, who will preach during the online service broadcast from the large downtown Winnipeg church. "We don’t want to become part of the problem."
Church of the Rock will continue to meet at it four campuses across Winnipeg and one in Niverville, but is taking care to sanitize doorknobs, washrooms, and chairs in its main building on Buffalo Place with a sanitizer spray gun purchased last week, said lead pastor Mark Hughes.
"It sends out a mist with an ionized charge, so it clings to whatever is near," he said about the $2,000 cleaning tool loaded with a chlorine tablet and small amount of water.
Hughes said practices will evolve as the situation changes in Manitoba, but called for calmness instead of panic — and for Christians to help people in need, as they have done throughout their history.
"Christian people and people of faith need to step up, not step away," Hughes said in a telephone interview. "We need to help people, encourage people, and bring hope to people."
That message was echoed by Rev. Cathy Campbell, priest at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, who suggested the rapid spread of panic around COVID-19 might be stemmed by people talking to each other, gathering in small groups in safe ways, and helping those who are disadvantaged.
"As people get anxious and fearful, you lose the capacity to care about the people around you," said Campbell. "We have to be focused on the other, we have to be in relationship with other people."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.