July 8, 2020

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Religious groups treading delicate waters on reopening

Some houses of worship are resuming services, some are choosing to remain online

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Due to COVID-19 restrictions attendance at the Sunday mass at Holy Family Church in Winnipeg was limited.</p>


Due to COVID-19 restrictions attendance at the Sunday mass at Holy Family Church in Winnipeg was limited.

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If you are a parishioner at Holy Family Ukrainian Catholic Church you have to make a reservation to worship there.

If you are part of the congregation at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, you still can’t get through the doors.

It’s just part of the new normal during these COVID-19 times as religious communities try to navigate their way through faith, support, the coronavirus, and the province’s gradual reopening of both the economy and other areas of the community.

Sunday’s services were the first time in months the faith community was allowed to have up to 50 people inside for a service, up from what had been a maximum of 25 for several weeks.

But it still put limits on what they could do.

Father John Mostivsky, of Holy Family on Grant Avenue, said on Sunday that the church was able to have 50 people inside the sanctuary for Sunday’s morning service where normally there could be up to 250.

"They call two days before the service to reserve," Mostivsky said shortly after his service finished.

"They have a special place here. They have to keep two metres away, but families can sit together. We have people directing them where to sit."

Mostivsky said since the province had to close non-essential services, including in-person worship at faith organizations, he has been broadcasting his sermons live on Facebook and YouTube.

"The parishioners’ reactions were extremely positive and they were most appreciative to have the church come to their home," he said. "The online services were the best replacement that was possible at the time of the pandemic as churches were closed to the public.

"This was the first time we had 50 people here, before it was 25, before that it was 10, and before that only three or four here to sing... we are aware that there will be a new normal and our life at home, in our schools, in our workplace, and in our churches will not be the same.

"If this is God’s plan, we welcome it with patience and prayer and not with fear and hopelessness."

Ian Staniloff, executive director of Shaarey Zedek, said the synagogue closed its doors when the pandemic started and the provincial government ordered non-essential services to close, but unlike Holy Family and several other faith communities has chosen to remain closed.

"Not yet," Staniloff said when asked if the synagogue had reopened yet. "Before this, how would we have determined the 25 who could come?

"And we didn’t want to reserve. But we were set up prior to this to having livestream sermons for the last year and a half. When this came it was just an easy transition not to have people come in.

"We’re not in as great of a panic to have people come back unless we are very comfortable about allowing it."

But Staniloff said that doesn’t mean it has been easy. It has meant that all funeral services have been held online at gravesites and many other celebrations, which usually attract many family members and friends, including all bar and bat mitzvahs, have been put on hold.

"Even our High Holy Days in September, we’ve decided they will be livestreaming with password access. The service will be like every other service except there won’t be people in the sanctuary.

"We are going to be very careful not to rush anything."


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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