Area churches are responding in various ways to updated provincial COVID-19 restrictions released last week, with all contacted planning to adhere to safety measures.
Father Nilo Macapinlac, with St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Olds, says services and masses are continuing in person and online under the new provincial protocols, with church members accepting of the need to keep the community safe.
He explained that in-person services will be conducted to a maximum of one-third capacity as required by provincial regulations.
“Of course we will be following the AHS (Alberta Health Services) regulations, including the 30 per cent capacity, social distancing and sanitation,” he said, noting a total of 158 people will be permitted during any one service.
“I always say a mask is a must at Mass,” he added with a chuckle.
A variety of online options are being made available for those interested.
“There are many avenues available, including services from Rome and the Philippines,” he said.
Funerals and weddings will not be held until the new restrictions are lifted, he said.
“Those are on hold for now,” he said.
Father Macapinlac conducts services in six area communities, including Three Hills, Trochu, Sundre and Didsbury, and at area hospitals.
Ensuring the health and wellbeing of fellow community members is an important part of the Christian faith, he said.
“We are charitable to one another and the charity begins in oneself,” he said.
Under new rules effective Sept. 15, all places of worship are limited to a capacity of one-third of fire code occupancy. Masks are mandatory and there must be two metres physical distancing between households, or two close contacts for those living alone.
Innisfail churches plan ahead
Rev. Darren Liepold, of the Innisfail United Church, said his church is looking at closing and going back to online services, noting in-person worship had just begun on Sept. 5.
“Most of our congregation is now double vaccinated, but you can pass it on while even being double vaccinated on someone else,” he said. “We feel it our duty to keep our members safe. As a caring community that is our primary goal.
“This how we can care for one another. We’ve encouraged vaccinations. We’ve encouraged caring for one another all the way throughout. Even though we are worshipping differently we’re still managing to maintain our protections with each other and the community even though we’re worshipping either online or in-person.”
Pastor Gerald Bradbury, of Innisfail’s River of Life Pentecostal Assembly, said his church will “very strictly” follow all the guidelines laid out by the province on Sept. 15.
“We were putting in guidelines even on the first round and before even when the first announcements came out,” said Bradbury. “A lot of people in church right now are vulnerable, some are immunocompromised.”
He said his church will follow what he calls the “Biblical mandates” of respecting the laws of the land, and exercising social responsibility of taking care of one another.
“We’ve been very strict on it right from the start,” said Bradbury, adding his church will be operating at a third of its fire code capacity of 130. He said with physical distancing his church will only be able to handle a maximum of 30 people.
Each congregation member must also wear a mask from the moment they walk in until the time they leave.
“We already have our signage put up, and we also add in our signage that if you choose not to follow these guidelines, we kindly ask that you can sit in your car and hear on the radio or they can watch us online,” he said.
“There is a social mandate of taking care of one another in society. If we’re not taking care of one another, we’re not fulfilling what Christ asked us to do, and that is to love our neighbours and make sure they are safe and healthy.”
Sundre-area churches seek creative solutions
Todd MacDonald is a pastor at Main Avenue Fellowship in Sundre.
“We saw the numbers going up. It was only a matter of time,” MacDonald said Sept. 16. “We were prepared for it (new regulations). It wasn’t anything that we didn’t already expect.
“We’ve got the masks already set to go. We’ve had them sitting there the whole time, so we haven’t really changed too much.”
And since the church’s 130-person capacity generally doesn’t reach beyond 40 people, their services won’t be impacted, he said.
“Right now, the number of people that we have in the church is under the one-third capacity. So, we have no real problems there,” he said.
Additionally, with an interior setup featuring large, six-foot tables and chairs that are spaced apart, he said they’ve also already accommodated for physical distancing.
However, the situation at McDougal Chapel required some creative solutions to ensure continued services.
Pastor Kent Janz said service attendance in the chapel’s capacity of nearly 300 tends to exceed the one-third capacity.
“We hold about 299, and we’re over 100 people, so that really affects us,” said Janz.
“All I can say is that we are planning to open as normal on Sunday using our fire code from downstairs as well as upstairs,” he said, explaining each floor has its own fire code capacity.
“We are planning on having our kids and our youth all downstairs, and then our adults upstairs,” he said.
One way or another, Janz intends to do everything possible to ensure continuity of service for his congregation.
“Our number one goal is to keep our doors open. Whether you consider church an essential or a non-essential service, we consider it a privilege to be able to serve our community, and we’ll do whatever we can to keep the doors open.”
Developing an agreeable approach to move forward under the temporary restrictions was not cut and dry, the pastor said, adding he plans to put signage in place and inform people what the expectations are.
“It’s been a little more emotional than it’s ever been,” he said, adding people’s feelings on the pandemic are spread out across the board.
“There’s so much frustration. So, to come to a consensus was probably not as easy as what it has been in the past,” he said.
“Due diligence is probably the biggest thing. Obviously, we can’t keep everyone 100 per cent compliant, but we can do our due diligence as a church.”
Faith, he emphasized, is the foundation he and the congregation plan to lean on during this challenging time.
“We believe in God, and I do believe God’s bigger than this pandemic and I have confidence in that,” he said. “There’s a God that loves us so much, that the pandemic is not going to separate us from him.”