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King City United Church continues virtual services amid COVID-19 pandemic

Minister Andrew Lee said he’s not willing to risk the health of worshippers
June 22, 2020
Laura Broadley and Amanda Persico

Places of worship were given the “OK” to open, but not all are willing to open their doors quite yet.

Senior Minister Andrew Lee of King City United Church said the church isn’t reopening for in-person service until at least the end of August.

“At the end of August we will resume to reconsider the on-site worship service,” Lee said.

The King City United Church has a capacity of 350 people and 30 per cent of capacity is allowed to attend, but Lee isn’t willing to risk it.

“We can gather right now but most of them are seniors, so we don’t want to challenge them to come over,” Lee said.

For now, ministers, scripture readers and musicians are recording video on the weekdays and uploading to the church’s YouTube channel for worshippers to watch.

“Physical contact and physical presence is one of the most important parts of church life. But most people are understanding this situation, the seriousness of the situation,” Lee said.

Parishioners’ offerings to the church are coming through online banking while they’re forced to stay at home.

“It’s very challenging for me to catch up on the technical support that I haven’t learned yet. I’m learning it one by one,” Lee said.

For Catholics, the archdiocese of Toronto instituted a gradual reopening, where church buildings were reopened for private prayer the week of June 15, and public service can resume June 17 with weekend services permitted to start June 20.

But reopening comes with a number of public health and safety requirements dictated by the province, including maintaining physical distancing of two metres and having a maximum of 30 per cent of the building’s capacity.

Not to mention, the entire building from the pews to the benches are required to be disinfected before and after each service.

How local places of worship will monitor the maximum 30 per cent capacity limit is left up to the individual location.

Some of the suggestions brought forward from the Archdiocese include: using an online or phone reservation system; hosting services for different sectors, including a separate service for seniors (similar to seniors-only hours at retail stores); encouraging attendance by last name; and asking attendees to line up with admittance being on a first-come, first-served basis.

“One major challenge is we just don’t know how many people will feel comfortable returning at this time,” said Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto, the umbrella organization for York Region Catholic churches.

“If (churches) are not in a position to follow the protocols in place, they should not open at this time.”

Other Christian denominations could expect to reopen in September, urging pastors to take summer holiday as planned.

“Engaging in ministry without the advantages of physically gathering (can) be both logistically demanding and emotionally and spiritually draining,” wrote Rev. Andrew Asbil, United Church of Canada bishop of Toronto, in a letter to the Diocese of Toronto June 10.

“Yes, please do book a wonderful summer break. Our Canadian summers are so precious and all too brief.”

Regardless of when local places of worship reopen for public services, how church services will be conducted will look and feel different no matter what faith you follow.

There will be no signing, no handshakes, fountains will be empty and attendees will be required to wear a mask.