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Coping with COVID in and out of church

Olds pastor says congregants have accepted and follow COVID rules, but some non-congregants don't embrace them
MVT St. Paul's communion wafers-2
St. Paul's Lutheran Church pastor Olav Traa demonstrates how congregants consume communion bread wafers under the church's COVID precautions. Doug Collie/MVP Staff

OLDS — New St. Paul’s Lutheran church pastor Olav Traa says the church has taken every precaution it can to keep COVID-19 at bay and he’s impressed with the way his congregation has adopted those rules. 

When interviewed, Traa said the community was “sort of kind of emerging from COVID” but precautions were still being followed. Now with the new Omicron variant in Alberta, the threat from the disease is perhaps even greater. 

Before coming to St. Paul’s in the early fall, Traa had done his internship in Camrose, where the family previously lived. 

"I’ve had to bury a lot of people because of COVID. That’s something that you never forget -- people that you love dearly, and so I bring that with me,” he said.  

“In our congregation here, we’ve been very healthy. I think we’ve been spared a lot, from what I know.  

“But everyone knows someone who has been affected, so they’ve been totally on board with the various suggestions that I’ve brought and they have actually been very careful themselves as well.” 

When interviewed earlier, Traa said all those who come into the church are required to be masked and follow social distancing rules. Hand sanitizer is made available too. 

He said there’s no divide among the congregation. Everyone accepts the need to follow the rules. 

“Sometimes it’s awkward and we laugh at ourselves because we forget the mask or whatever, but I think everybody here is fully on-board,” Traa said 

“We’ve discussed it together and they’ve embraced everything we’ve talked about and there are people that know ‘OK, I maybe shouldn’t come because I’m not feeling well or I feel sick’ or whatever and so they stay (home). 

“I’ve never had to say (‘no, stay home.’) What I do say is ‘thank you for putting your mask on.’” 

Traa said they are serving communion but with several restrictions and precautions. 

“It’s almost choreographed so that there’s no one crossing paths, there’s no one facing each other,” he said. 

Precautions in order to serve communion include the following. 

Every other pew has been blocked off in order to keep congregants a safe distance away from each other. 

When the communion service begins, participants begin coming up toward the front of the church from the back. Each person or group of congregants waits at spaced out distances to make sure everyone is always at least six feet away from the next person. 

They remain masked the entire time until Traa presents them with a bread wafer, which he provides with tongs. 

They then proceed over to a table to pick up a plastic disposable glass that contains the wine. After the wine is consumed, the glass goes in a container. 

“You know, even with all the awkwardness I get the sense that people really appreciate it. People really appreciate being able to worship together, even if it might take a little longer than usual to do communion,” Traa said. 

Services can also be livestreamed. In fact, Traa said they’ve already livestreamed funerals. 

“There are definitely some people who still cannot come and worship with us because they’re either immunocompromised or (have) some other illness and so we’ll go to continue to livestream some of our worship services for those people who simply cannot be here for health reasons,” he said. 

The church has also managed to hold their first confirmation class in a long time and host other groups, like 4-H and Alcoholics Anonymous in the facility – all of which are required to follow rules like masking and social distancing. 

“It was fun to actually drive by the church and see the church all lit up and people coming and going. It was kind of a delight to see that after so many months of just non-activity in the building. That's part of what – for me – church is all about as well,” Traa said.  

Traa said although people in the congregation are willing to follow the rules, he has had some discussions with people outside the congregation who are anti-vaxxers. Some have tried to get him to provide them with a religious exemption. 

“What really is heartbreaking is the divide between people. And you know, we seem to be in a very polarized society these days where it’s black and white. It’s one way or the other way,” he said. 

Traa said he engages with those people in a respectful way, rather than an “authoritarian attitude.” 

“We’re called to love our neighbour. Not be judgmental and not just say ‘you’re wrong,’ but ‘OK, I can see where you’re coming from,’” he said. 

"I know where I stand on those issues and I’m comfortable in my stand. (I ask them) ‘so what is it in scripture that you think supports your not wearing not a mask. Why is that? Where do you get that from? Like, who have you spoken to?’ 

“Then that person can probably walk away from that conversation knowing that I wasn’t judging them. I wasn’t saying they were not a good Christian.” 

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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