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No singing, no handshakes: Georgina churches 'will be very different' once opened

Georgina congregations taking extra time to reopen after coronavirus shutdown
June 24, 2020
Amanda Persico

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

Recently, the province announced place of worship can reopen for public services with the caveat of operating at 30 per cent capacity.

But churches never closed, argued Reverend Ted Grady with the Knox United Church in Sutton.

“Church is the people,” Grady said. “We never stopped worshipping. Instead we worshipped from home online.”

But in-person worship will look and feel very different.

There can be no singing, no unison prayer and no fellowship following the service.

“It will be very different,” Grady said. “I’m not sure how people will experience being in the building and not being able to do what they were accustomed to do. Will it be a comfort just to be in the building or will people lament the loss?”

There are many challenges when it comes to resuming in-person worship and timelines vary across the religious spectrum. Many Anglican parishes are waiting until the fall; Catholic churches were permitted to resume mass starting June 20.

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

For smaller sanctuaries, physical distancing measures could not add up to 30 per cent capacity.

“Imagine, six feet all around you,” Grady said of the small space within Knox United church. “You can’t fit many people in a room.”

Along with physical distancing measures, places of worship are forced to look at the physical layout of the building and how it is used during the service. The path of traffic has to be marked and limited, only one entrance can be used and doors need to be propped or held open to help prevent cross-contamination.

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 suggestions include: an online or phone reservation system; establish a lottery system each week; host services for different sectors, including a separate service for seniors similar to what many retail stores have implemented; encourage attendance by last name; and ask attendees to line up and admittance will be 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,” 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.”

But limiting who can celebrate the religious service goes against what the church is supposed to represent, Grady said.

“The church is supposed to be an open and inclusive place,” he said. “How can we exclude people by our own decision?

“I really struggle with this. These measures are exclusionary and (it) does not fit within the spirit of worship.”

The Knox United Church, similar to other Christian denominations, is gearing up for a fall reopen, as was previously planned by the United Church of Canada.

“September is more of a reality for in-person worship,” Grady said.

The Chabad Jewish Centre of Georgina is also in no rush to reopen its space, taking the extra precaution of time.

“This is a very tricky situation,” said Rabbi Yossi Vorovitch. “It’s very grey. And that’s the hardest part. We want to go back and have regular services. But we don’t want to be the cause of someone getting sick.”

Not to mention, the centre ran its services, Hebrew school for children and various other programs out of the Vorovitch basement, adding to the layers of precaution.

“If people have to stay away from their grandchildren, how can we tell them to come to a service?” he added.

Until the doors are open, many places of worship are continuing with virtual services. Check with your local place of worship for its virtual service schedule.