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East Gwillimbury churches not quite ready to return to in-person worship

Local pastors say it's not quite time to get back to gatherings at churches
June 25, 2020
Simon Martin

Churches have gotten the go ahead from the province to open their doors back up to 30 per cent capacity. But for many congregations in East Gwillimbury, the risk is simply too large and the restrictions too cumbersome to attempt to start up in-person gatherings just yet.

Scott Clubine, pastor of Hillside Church in Mount Albert, said they are going to continue with online services for the time being.

The church has been broadcasting its services through YouTube since the pandemic started. When Clubine saw the new restrictions, including no social time and limited singing, he said it made sense to be cautious and keep the services remote.

“If we can’t do those two things what’s the point of coming together?,” he said. “We can still meet people in small groups. But we aren’t relaunching into services until more restrictions are lifted.”

Another challenge Hillside faces is that the congregation has a large number of children. Clubine said with kids programming not really possible with proper physical distancing measures it is a challenge to conceive how that aspect can return at this point.

The pandemic has been a challenge but also on opportunity to try new things and reach different people Clubine said. “It has been a neat thing to see our reach expand. We have people tuning into services that have never been to the building,” he said.

It’s much the same at Mount Albert United Church, where Pastor Warren Bell said the congregation is not returning as of yet. When the province made the announcement it didn’t take long for the church’s leadership team to make a decision. “We quickly and unanimously decided not to open our church just yet,” he said.  

In lieu of a Sunday morning service, Bell sends out a mini-service in two formats: a PDF file and video, which he records at home and uploads to YouTube.

Bell said the church will assess reopening as more information is available.

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 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: an online or phone reservation system; hosting 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 serviced basis.

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