Places of worship will be allowed to welcome people back inside as part of the first step of B.C.’s re-opening plan, underway now, but Langley churches are taking it slow and moving in careful stages.
At Langley’s St. George’s Anglican church, more than a century old, there was no in person service scheduled for Sunday, May 31, the first weekend after the re-opening plan was announced, said Rev. Kelly Duncan.
The provincial announcement on Tuesday, May 25 said that indoor in-person faith-based gatherings would be able to resume at a reduced capacity.
But not all churches, including St. George’s, will be able to head back right away. A pastoral letter from Bishop John Stephens said that indoor worship won’t start in local Anglican churches until June 15.
“There is no indoor worship allowed at the moment unless it is for recording online worship (with a maximum of 10 people),” Stephens wrote.
Indoor worship will resume for Anglican churches as early as June 15, once all COVID protocols including masking, distancing, and contact tracing are in place, but with a ban on congregational singing.
Larger places of worship have other challenges and different plans.
Derrick Hamre, lead pastor at Langley’s Christian Life Assembly, has been working with his team on plans to slowly bring back approximately 3,000 people across several campuses to in-person worship.
That doesn’t mean that worship will be mass gatherings in the church itself right away.
“The church is not a building, the church is people,” Hamre said.
That’s why the first phase of CLA’s re-opening is to ask church members to open up their own homes as places of hospitality and gathering. With people now allowed to have members of other households visit, it’s gatherings of families and individuals that starts first.
“That’s where we begin, very grassroots,” said Hamre. “Love one another, connect with one another.”
The second stage will be bringing back people for gatherings in separate congregations. Youths, seniors, addiction recovery groups – they’ll be able to meet in church buildings in groups of 50 or fewer, with safety protocols.
After that, the public opening will be the first Sunday after June 15, assuming the provincial plan stays on track.
“We’re excited about that, we haven’t had Sundays open, really, for a year,” Hamre said.
The maximum number of people allowed to gather for worship indoors is expected to be 50.
Since November, during the second wave of COVID-19 that saw cases spike before the holidays, there has been no indoor worship allowed in churches, temples, and mosques in B.C., and local faith communities have turned to everything from virtual services via computer to gathering in cars in parking lots.
Duncan said the St. George’s is being very cautious.
As for what a return to in-person worship will be like, Duncan said the first phase will likely be much like what was in place last summer and fall, when churches were open but with reduced capacity.
Those who want to attend in person will probably have to register in advance, she said.
At CLA, Hamre said the church is planning to hold a number of in-person special events over the summer to celebrate together as restrictions ease.
At St. George’s Duncan said there will still be some form of online worship for those who can’t come, but it won’t be a live stream of the indoor service.
“Doing a hybrid service in the church live is not something that’s easy to do,” she said, due to the age of the building.
However, the church does want to keep reaching out online even after the restrictions are all lifted.
The last year has brought in entirely new parishioners who had never set foot in the church before the pandemic, as well as some familiar faces.
“Folks that had moved away, that had been sorry to leave their church community,” Duncan said.
In addition, the online system allows reaching out to people who can’t leave their homes, whether for the long term or because of a temporary condition.
“It’s something that we’re trying to hold on to, absolutely,” she said.
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