While smaller Red Deer churches may have returned to in-person worship services, those with larger congregations are still deciding how and when to open their doors as COVID-19 restrictions ease up.
Victory Church welcomed back about 35 people at each of its two in-church services on May 24 — the first since mid-March.
“To be together with your family — because that’s what we are — is incredible. It just breathes life into people,” said church administrator Pauline Shattock.
People did stay connected online and by phone in recent months, she said, but coming together in the church is a unique experience.
“People were just excited to come and see one another,” Shattock said.
Jordan Polson, executive pastor at CrossRoads Church, said holding in-person services isn’t as easy for larger parishes.
“We’re still having to wrestle with how do we actually do church, when we can’t meet together like we were,” Polson said.
“We’re not ready yet. There’s so many different ways of doing it.”
He said people have adjusted to online services, but they are anxious to worship together again.
Seniors who don’t have internet have been able to listen to CrossRoads broadcasts on the radio. Church members have also been connecting with seniors.
“I think today, we have more contact with our seniors than what we did before, because of people calling them, and visiting with them, and praying with them.
“The building might be closed, but not the church. That’s what we discovered. There’s lots of caring people reaching out.”
He said the provincial government and Alberta Health Services have recognized the value churches have in the community.
Recently, Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, held a conference call with more than 1,000 religious leaders.
“What I have appreciated is that Alberta has a government that has recognized the religious community and wants to provide guidance for us and has not ignored us,” Polson said.
Ross Smillie, minister at Sunnybrook United Church, said now more than ever, people know the importance of their spirituality, and the church has reached out in new ways.
“I think most churches have done this. We’ve basically re-invented the church, so people can stay in touch with each other,” Smillie said.
He said many people appreciate the option of live-stream services, and members have also been making an effort to connect with people in hospital and others who may be isolated.
“It’s been very moving to see how they pulled together.”
As a larger church, Sunnybrook has not made a decision about when in-person services will resume. People benefiting from online services include the elderly, who are most at risk of COVID-19 complications, he said.
“If there was second wave, we certainly don’t want to be the vector for that.”
He said during the first COVID-19 wave, a Calgary church had 41 people attend a service in March and 24 people got sick, and two died.
“That church was very careful. They wore gloves, and they were masked, and they were social distancing, so it’s a really serious issue.”
Smillie said his church council must consider restarting in-person services, and allowing community groups to use the church, with great care.