Corp Comm Connects

'We're praying on it': Aurora churches differ on welcoming back worshippers

Amid coronavirus, Ontario allows religious services with restrictions
June 24, 2020
Lisa Queen and Amanda Persico

As the provincial government begins loosening coronavirus restrictions, Aurora churches are taking different approaches on opening their doors to worshippers.

Our Lady of Grace, for example, began holding daily mass on June 17, followed by five daily weekend masses as of June 20.

On the other hand, Northridge Community Church of the Salvation Army isn’t planning on resuming on-site services any time soon.

There are many protocols in place at Our Lady of Grace. Attendees must register, wear masks and make sure they don’t have a fever. The church is sanitized before and after each mass.

Although the Roman Catholic Church on Yonge Street can accommodate 700 worshippers, the church is only allowing about 160 to attend services to respect provincial physical distancing rules, Father Frank McDevitt said.

Despite the restrictions, many members of the congregation are happy to be worshipping again in the church, which has been closed for more than a year while it underwent renovations.

“It’s a pretty big deal for some folks. They have been missing it pretty seriously. Of course, there has been lots of stuff on TV and the internet, but it’s not the same as coming together,” McDevitt said.

“I’m not sure it was a praise the Lord moment, but I was pleased because for churchgoing people, going to church is an important part of their week. And being able to reconnect with people because that is part of the strangeness of this whole process.”

The Salvation Army church on Leslie Street north of Wellington Street is continuing with livestreamed services, virtual Bible study classes and counselling, and online children’s programming rather than on-site services.

“When I say Zoom is preoccupying my life, it’s preoccupying my life,” pastor Brian Bishop laughed.


While the church is still operating a food bank, on-site church services are still at least weeks away.

“We’re taking it slow. We’re thinking on it, praying on it,” he said, calling restrictions needed to reopen “pretty onerous.”

“Certainly, we don’t want to cause any spike in the virus. We’re concerned about those who would gather, but we’re also concerned about our larger community. We don’t want to contribute to a greater second wave than what is anticipated to be.”

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 resumed June 17, with weekend services permitted as of 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.

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.

“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.”

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.”