Churches across northeastern Ontario plan to reopen
While churches across northeastern Ontario can reopen as soon as June 14, many are taking a measured approach to ensure everyone's safety. (Dana Roberts/CTV News)
SUDBURY -- While churches across northeastern Ontario can reopen as soon as June 14, many are taking a measured approach to ensure everyone's safety.
On Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced in-person church services could be held at 30 per cent of regular capacity as part of the province's second phase of reopening.
"When we got the news on Monday, we were really excited and we thought maybe we could open this Sunday, but we realized that we want to get this right," said Todd Manuel, pastor of Glad Tidings Church in Sudbury.
Manuel said that, upon further reflection, they decided to wait an extra week to ensure the church was prepared to welcome back as many as 350 people after remaining empty for so long.
"Our aim -- we're not promising -- but our aim is that we will have our congregation or part of our congregation here on June 21," said Manuel.
In order to meet that guideline, Manuel said a number of new protocols will need to be developed to ensure that parishioners are practising physical distancing, while also ensuring things like washroom facilities are up to standard.
Manuel also said all parishioners will be required to check-in, to ensure any potential new COVID-19 infections can be properly traced and tracked to where they originated.
For this weekend, the increased social gathering limit will allow the Glad Tiding's online streaming of its service to be live. Over the course of the pandemic, it has been pre-recorded.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Algoma and the Diocese of Moosonee for the Anglican Church will maintain its services online throughout the rest of the summer.
"We want to be sure that when we open our buildings to our parishioners that we have good, solid plans in place," said Anne Germond, archbishop of the diocese. "It would pain me as the archbishop for there to be a further outbreak of the coronavirus as a result of lack of care for our parishioners."
Germond said the diocese has been extremely pleased with the number of people who have been tuning in to its live streaming services over the last few months. She said they plan to use the summer to come up with detailed plans and protocols for a safe opening in September.
"I know other bishops are as keen as everyone to get back to the business of worshiping together, but we want to show extra caution and care in this time, and so I'm looking forward as much as everybody else to being able to worship in September and daily prayers continue," Germond said.
In the meantime, plans are underway to gather outside parishes for small gatherings over the coming months.
"The premier has announced that now there can be gatherings of 10 people, and so how can we give our parishioners the opportunity to meet in small groups, physically distanced outside?" said Germond. "All of those (questions) are very premature right now, but we do want to give people the opportunity to meet if they can."
All of these plans come as funeral services appear to have been lost in the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2.
"The hope was that when Phase 2 would arrive, that perhaps we would be included with the churches, i.e. a third of our chapel facility would be available for people to attend," said Gerry Lougheed Jr. of Lougheed Funeral Homes.
Lougheed, who said his chapel can hold up to 250 people, said he was disappointed with the decision.
"I think there has to be a compassionate component to the COVID directives," said Lougheed. "I think we need to respect the medical opinions and we certainly don't want to spread the disease but the (compassionate component) is people that are being loved by other people, spouses, children, parents, grandparents; obviously when they die there is a need to grieve, there is a need to have closure etc.
"Ten people is a relatively small group of people, especially for larger families with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
Under the new guidelines for churches, Lougheed said at 30 per cent capacity he would be able to seat approximately 80 people. His regulatory board has reached out to the province for clarification on the matter.
In a news release sent out Wednesday, the Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie said it anticipates services resuming the weekend of June 20.
Services at All Nations Church in Sudbury will resume, with new measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in place, begin June 14.