Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Restrictions are gradually being lifted on various aspects of life in Manitoba. That includes places of worship. What are local faith leaders thinking about that? I asked some for their thoughts.
While they have had a good experience with online church at Charleswood United Church, minister Michael Wilson is looking forward to getting back to in-person services.
"The Christian community is by nature incarnational," he said. "God came to us ‘in the flesh.’ Virtual meetings have been great, but it can never replace the wonder of smiles and voices and presence."
As for when worship services resume, "we remain committed to following the limits imposed by Manitoba Health as well waiting for such a time when we won’t have to turn people away," he said.
"Even when larger numbers are permitted, there will be safety measures that need to be taken," he added. "I think we will have an easier time with social distancing in the hall than in the sanctuary, using chairs rather than pews."
As for online, Charleswood will continue doing that. "We have already committed ourselves to upgrading the equipment we need to do this. Next will be evaluating what human resources we need."
While Rabbi Matthew Leibl of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue is also looking forward to meeting again, he is not "feeling any urgency to open up. There is no pressure from congregants."
Once back meeting in person, "we will continue to rock our broadcasts. The feedback has been great."
When the time comes to re-open, he hopes to not have to turn people away to stay within size limits.
"Hopefully the number will go up over the summer and we can open up without so many complications," he said.
Over at the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, Archbishop Richard Gagnon believes it is very important to reopen since "the vast majority of people of faith have been deprived of participation in their communities."
Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques provide are essential for many, he added, providing a healing presence. "Faith is not a supplementary activity but a necessary part of people’s lives," he said — especially now since so many people are feeling the strain of being locked-down and isolated for so long.
And while Gagnon appreciates how the government is increasing the number of people who can gather at places of worship, he believes it must "match other parts of society where 50 per cent capacity is allowed . . . . Now is the time to begin this positive move to a greater opening of our spiritual centres and I appeal to our provincial government to assist in this."
For Idris Elbakri, chair of the board of the Manitoba Islamic Association, "there’s lots of learning" taking place as they look forward to reopening the Grand Mosque in the city.
"We are eager to reconnect," he said, "but logistically it is challenging."
When they reopen, people will need to apply online for tickets to attend services, with a limit of 25 at first to test how things will go.
To make services as safe as possible, they will be kept to ten minutes in length, while worshippers will practise physical distancing and be asked to bring their own prayer mats.
The mosque will also record everyone who is present, in the event someone has the virus and it needs to conduct contact tracing.
It will also keep up its online services, since older people, who are most at risk, will likely still stay away.
"It’s a huge paradigm shift for us, but it extends the umbrella of the community beyond the physical mosque," Elbakri said.
The local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will follow guidance from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, said media affairs spokesperson Christine Baronins.
According to the church’s leaders, re-opening should only be done when local government regulations allow it and after local church leaders provide additional guidance to members.
When in-person worship services are allowed, local congregations are advised to hold shortened meetings, continue the use of online technology, pay particular attention to members whose health or age puts them at high risk, and follow social distancing, handwashing and other guidelines.
At Crossroads Community Church, pastor Marvin Dyck said not everyone may want to come back when churches reopen, depending on their level of risk for catching the virus. For that reason, the church intends to continue with its online services.
Lots to think about! And there will be a lot of time to think about it, since health experts say it could be a year or longer before places of worship can expect everyone in their congregations to be able to gather again for worship services.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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