Most places of worship keep faith in masks despite rule change

After officiating at too many funerals of parishioners who died of COVID-19, Rev. Geoffrey Angeles says he plans to exceed public health mandates in order to protect worshippers at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2021 (374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After officiating at too many funerals of parishioners who died of COVID-19, Rev. Geoffrey Angeles says he plans to exceed public health mandates in order to protect worshippers at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

“I’ve made the decision myself to make masks mandatory inside the church,” said Angeles, rector of the downtown cathedral for the last eight years.

Under public health orders that take effect at 12:01 Saturday, masks are recommended but not required for indoor events. The orders also increase the number of people allowed to attend indoor religious or cultural gathers to 50 per cent of capacity or 150, whichever is greater.

Previous orders allowed for 50 per cent, up to 150 people, with masks worn at all times.

The new health orders also specify that persons attending indoor services must be separated by at least two metres from others, except for people who live in the same household.

Angeles said attendance at the cathedral’s three weekend masses will be limited to 200 individuals, even though half of capacity could be as much as 350 people. Only people already registered with the downtown parish will be allowed to attend.

“Elbow to elbow, hip to hip, it’s about 700,” he said of the maximum capacity of the downtown cathedral.

“But who wants to do that at this time?”

After 18 months of staying at home and limiting contacts, Rabbi Allan Finkel said Temple Shalom planned to ease people back into live services beginning Friday, Aug. 6, allowing up to 100 fully vaccinated people wearing masks to attend. Fifty per cent capacity at Temple Shalom would be about 150 people.

“We’re not judging the rules, we’re just working with what we’re comfortable with,” said Finkel, who says services will continue to be livestreamed, including the upcoming services for Jewish High Holidays, which begin on Sept. 6.

“We’ll take the next couple of weeks to sort out what we’re allowed by public health and what our community feels is safe.” — Rev. Michael Wilson

Congregation Shaarey Zedek has not made plans yet to return to in-person worship and the synagogue will continue to livestream through the High Holidays, Rabbi Anibal Mass said in an email message. A policy dated on Aug. 5 says masks are mandatory inside the building, with exceptions for young children and people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing one.

Even if provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin won’t mandate masks, Anglican Bishop Geoffrey Woodcroft has no problem with making them mandatory inside every church in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land to curb transmission of COVID-19, especially the more infectious variants.

Woodcroft said Anglican churches that hold in-person meetings must ensure people wear masks and maintain a two-metre distance between households, keep records of participants and not use wine in the celebration of the Eucharist.

“We’re erring on the side of safety because we care,” said Woodcroft, who plans to wear a mask whenever he leads worship.

“We believe it’s our civic duty to lead by example.”

“We’re not judging the rules, we’re just working with what we’re comfortable with.” — Allan Finkel, Rabbi at Temple Shalom

People attending Friday prayers or other events at mosques run by Manitoba Islamic Association will be encouraged to wear masks and stay two metres apart, said Tasneem Vali, vice chair of the association.

Some groups feel more comfortable with staying online or continuing with outdoor services. Charleswood United Church will continue with their recorded services broadcast online for the rest of the summer, and then likely continue with a hybrid model, said Rev. Michael Wilson.

“We’ll take the next couple of weeks to sort out what we’re allowed by public health and what our community feels is safe,” said Wilson.

Soul Sanctuary could accommodate up to 500 people indoors at their large facility in southwest Winnipeg, but the church but will continue with drive-in services for the rest of August, said Rev. Gerry Michalski.

The church will follow public health orders and will also encourage unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors, he said, adding he expects people to return to indoor worship at their own comfort levels.

“There are people who have every reason to be worried and every reason not to trust others with their health,” said Michalski.

“It puts us in a very precarious position.”

“We believe it’s our civic duty to lead by example.” — Geoffrey Woodcroft, Anglican Bishop

Springs Church announced on Friday it would reopen its Lagimodiere Boulevard campus on Aug. 15 for indoor worship and children’s programming. The message from senior pastors Leon and Sally Fontaine also said that “masks are not required in our building” and drive-in options are still available.

Springs Church received fines of more than $32,000 for breaking previous health orders related to drive-in services. Currently, there are no restrictions on the number of people who attend a drive-in service as long as people remain in their vehicles or stay at least two metres apart from others.

After losing parishioners to COVID-19 and witnessing others have compromised care because the health care system was overburdened, Angeles said it is his role as spiritual leader to ensure people inside his building stay safe, even it if means continuing with masks and limited attendance.

“This sense of freedom sounds great, but it also causes anxiety because this unbridled freedom hampers people’s safety,” Angeles said of the reduced restrictions in the latest provincial health orders.

Brenda.suderman@freepress.mb.ca

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