Months after provincial public health pandemic restrictions were lifted, one Winnipeg church still quietly requests worshipers to identify whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending services.

Months after provincial public health pandemic restrictions were lifted, one Winnipeg church still quietly requests worshipers to identify whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending services.

Beginning May 29, Grace Lutheran Church will alternate hosting Sunday morning worship services for people who are fully vaccinated with services that are open to all.

“There are a number of highly susceptible congregational members who are scared of being infected,” said council chairman Ron Hermann. “We want to provide them with an environment that is comfortable and safe.”

Since mid-March, the Kimberly Avenue congregation has held two services on Sunday mornings, with the earlier one for vaccinated attendees and the second service open to all. This weekend, the congregation moves to a summer schedule of only one service each Sunday — beginning with a service only open to fully vaccinated people.

Religious groups have been free to determine their own protocols since March 15, when public health guidelines on gathering sizes, social distancing and masking in indoor places were lifted. Some have returned to their pre-pandemic practices, while others have kept up measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We follow social distancing, we use every second pew, and we require masks,” Hermann said of the protocols in place for the East Kildonan congregation.

In addition, the doors to the sanctuary are left open and the building’s air handler is turned on to promote circulation.

The new schedule means people who are vaccinated can attend every Sunday service throughout the summer, while those who choose not to be vaccinated can attend on alternating Sundays, with the option of tuning into the livestream on any Sunday.

“Our goals was trying to find as many worshiping opportunities as possible and to try to create a comfort zone,” said Hermann.

Like many other congregations, attendance at Grace Lutheran Church has not returned to full strength, hovering at about half of pre-pandemic levels, Hermann said.

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At St. Luke’s Zion Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, most protocols are lifted, but the church still keeps records of attendees and asks them to wear masks in an effort to create a safe environment, said Rev. Lynne Hutchison.

“The reality is: some people will not come if they have to wear masks and some people will not come if others aren’t wearing a mask,” she said of response from congregants.

In October, the church developed a COVID covenant, still posted on its website, which opened with the following statement: “When we worship together inside the church building, we will keep in mind the health and well-being of all people.”

Hutchison expects congregational life to find a new normal in the months ahead, but doesn’t expect all practices will return to what they were pre-pandemic. For instance, people are encouraged to join in with congregational singing during worship (something discouraged early in the pandemic) but asked to sing quietly with their masks on.

“Some things are going to stay different,” she said.

faith@freepress.mb.ca

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.