Local churches reopen with strict rules in place
BY DENNY SCOTT
While some local spiritual leaders are either preparing to or have already started hosting worship in person, others have decided to play it safe and continue with online services as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
Over the weekend, Brussels Melville Presbyterian Church opened its sanctuary doors to the general public for the first time since the pandemic started. In an interview before the service, Rev. Charmila Ireland was optimistic about the church opening to the public.
“We’ve been having in-person worship outdoors for most of the summer, so we’ve had a bit of practice,” she told The Citizen. “We’re asking people to wear masks when entering and exiting [the church]; use the provided hand sanitizer at the entrance and sit at least two metres apart from anyone not in their family.”
She went on to say that it was unfortunate the church couldn’t offer fellowship times after services, but that serving food and drink invokes “a whole different set of restrictions.”
“Even with the restrictions, we are very excited to meet together and worship God,” she said. “Joining together in worship is a very powerful thing.”
Ireland said she would continue to provide online services for those who can’t attend in person.
Alex Jebson, the Brussels and Blyth United Churches’ new student minister, said his churches will wait another month before entertaining the idea of going to in-person worship services.
“For the United Church [of Canada], plans to re-enter buildings is up to each congregation, in consultation with the local health unit,” he told The Citizen. “For Brussels and Blyth United Churches, we have decided to not worship in our buildings at this time and will re-evaluate next month.
“We will be having weekly services posted on our new YouTube channel (Brussels and Blyth United Churches), and will also be launching a new website for the churches [soon] (brusselsandblythuc.ca) for more online church needs,” Jebson said.
He went on to say that the churches are exploring potential events, like outdoor services or music nights, akin to the Wednesday morning fellowship times currently hosted outside of the Blyth church at 10 a.m.
Huron Chapel in Auburn is currently welcoming 70 people to Sunday services every week, consisting of 60 pre-registered parishioners and 10 walk-ins, according to Associate Pastor Ernest Dow. That’s limiting the church to 30 per cent of its sanctuary capacity, he explained.
“We have capacity to overflow into the downstairs gym and fellowship hall for about as many again, if needed,” he told The Citizen, “though logistics and sanitizing become additional concerns at that point.”
Dow said parishioners are asked to pre-register online, sign in at the door, wear masks inside, refrain from singing or physically connecting with others and observe physical distancing.
“We maintain a one-way traffic flow, entering through the main doors and exiting through the ‘emergency exit’ door at the front of the sanctuary,” he said. “Folks do enjoy the liberty of standing around outside after the service to do some (physically-distanced) mask-free socializing.”
Other changes have occurred as well, including having a volunteer sanitize the bathroom after each use, keeping the offering plate in a static location instead of passing it around and not handing out bulletins.
“Communion will likely be on a ‘bring your own elements’ basis,” Dow said.
He said the church is still livestreaming services and working to enhance the quality of the broadcast, incorporating both pre-recorded music and live elements.
“We are still seeing about 30 households participating concurrently online to view our Sunday services, even as attendance at the building increases,” Dow said. “People enjoy being able to sing out loud at home.”
The Blyth Christian Reformed Church has now been open for two months according to Pastor Gary van Leeuwen.
“We have a strict limit of about 90 people,” he said, adding that’s 30 per cent of the church’s capacity. “We have people sign in, wear masks for the entirety of the service and sit apart from each other.
“We do allow singing during the Sunday service, but we ask people to keep their masks on,” he said, saying that Huron Perth Public Health doesn’t forbid singing, but urges caution. “Visitors are welcome, but it would be better [to] call ahead to ensure there is room.”
He said the church is also open for other events like Bible studies with the same restrictions in place.
Children’s programming is anticipated to return to the school in October, van Leeuwen said, and will depend on how the return to school goes.
“At this point, because our church building usage is somewhat limited, we do not have to do much extra cleaning,” he said. “However, when we start with more of our programs, we will be doing a lot more cleaning, especially if different groups are using the same space within three days of each other. We will keep a close eye on that.”
Parishioners aren’t getting the same full services the church provided before, van Leeuwen said. With things like fellowship time not being able to happen indoors and cold weather approaching, he said there will be more changes coming.
“We are making do for now, but, like most, we are eagerly looking forward to the day when the restrictions are lifted even more,” he said. “We know that is not going to happen soon, but we are praying that it will happen eventually. In the meantime, we are figuring things out as we move forward.”