United Church directly impacted by COVID-19 tells its story

Calgary’s Living Spirit United Church is choosing to tell the story of their experience with COVID-19 as a public service. As Rev. Shannon Mang says, “We don’t want another organization or faith community to go through what we’ve been through.” Thank you, Living Spirit United Church, for all that you do for the people you serve and for offering us all brave, courageous leadership.

During Alberta Chief Medical Officer Dr Deena Hinshaw’s May 7th daily update, the story was told of a faith community who has been directly impacted by the COVID19 virus.

With the blessing and encouragement of that faith community’s leadership, we would like you to know that Dr Hinshaw was referring to Calgary’s
Living Spirit United Church (LSUC) that she prepared her talk by speaking with LSUC’s Rev. Shannon Mang. The Living Spirit leadership is telling its story as a public service. As Rev. Mang told CTV News on Sunday, “We don’t want another organization or faith community to go through what we’ve been through.”
Similar to many congregations in Alberta, Living Spirit United Church had its final worship service on Sunday, March 15, before closing down public activities. A small social function followed worship. LSUC followed all known safety protocols at the time.
As Dr Hinshaw outlined, “There were only 41 people present, and they were careful to observe 2-metre distancing and hand hygiene. Food and drink were served by a small number of servers wearing gloves. No one was ill at the time. They followed all the rules and did nothing wrong.”
Within a week, one person had tested positive for COVID-19 and others soon followed. In total, 24 of the 41 people present tested positive, four people ended up in hospital and two people have died.
“It isn’t clear what the source of the virus was for the people at the gathering that day,” says Dr Hinshaw. “It could have been environmental contamination from others who had previously been in the building, it could have been that someone who attended had been exposed elsewhere and was unknowingly infected and able to pass the virus on to others before their symptoms started. We may never know exactly what happened, but the message is clear. Even with the precautions they took, more than half of those who attended that day got sick. Two lives were lost and those left behind are grieving their absence and the incomprehension of how what should have been a joyful event turned tragic.”

“Our LSUC experience is a reminder of how invisible, contagious and difficult to track this virus can be and how it can affect anyone, regardless of age or health.”
       — Paul Davies, Living Spirit United Church

The Living Spirit congregation and its leadership are to be commended. It quickly activated the emergency team that was named just one week prior at its Church Council meeting and is made up of Rev. Shannon Mang, the Chair of Council, the Treasurer and one of the Trustees. The team has kept in contact with all church membership, ensuring everyone has the support and needed supplies. An on-line wake has been held via Zoom for the first person who died, and a second on-line wake is in the planning stages. Both members who died were in their 80s.

Living Spirit United Church Candlelight Vigil
Drive-by Candle Light Vigils were held for the two church members who died.

Additionally, the Living Spirit congregation recently held drive-by candlelight vigils where congregants and friends drove by the homes of the two households who had lost a family member. The cars stopped briefly to drop off a candle that was then placed in the yard. Most people taking part were moved to see the candlelight surrounding these bereaved families. They were grateful to have some concrete, safe way to express their grief and their care. One family member later said to Shannon, “I’m sure the light from the candles in our yard could be seen from space.”  
It is important to the Living Spirit United Church leadership as well as the families who lost a family member to the COVID19 virus that other churches and organizations be told about their experience. As LSUC Emergency Leadership Team member Paul Davies wrote to that congregation earlier in the outbreak, “Our LSUC experience is a reminder of how invisible, contagious and difficult to track this virus can be and how it can affect anyone, regardless of age or health.”

In speaking to Albertans, Dr. Hinshaw acknowledged that many of us “miss the ability to be together in ways we once took for granted. Despite this, I am asking you to remain cautious. I am asking you to keep being creative about other ways of connecting and sharing meaningful moments.” At this point, gatherings in our provinces are limited to no more than 15 people who are social distancing at 2 metres. Restrictions on those gatherings include not including activities in which the virus can be transmitted such as serving food and singing and finding ways for those who are at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID to participate remotely.

“We are holding many things in tension right now,” Dr. Hinshaw said as she concluded her talk, “the need to protect ourselves and each other from COVID, our need for human community, and our need to mitigate the social, economic and health impacts of a prolonged shut down.”

Chinook Winds Regional Executive recommended to all Communities of Faith on March 16, 2020, that they close down public worship. That recommendation remains in place. The United Church’s General Council Office has prepared an initial, three-phase plan for congregations to return to public activities that was just released today. That plan is influenced by the LSUC experience. However, any recommendation for re-opening of church activities will be based on local public health advisories.