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COVID-19 is far from over. While our physical distancing has flattened the curve, infections and even deaths are still occurring. Those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are in the majority in our congregations, and as such, we need to approach our return to in-person worship with caution. Dr Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer is giving us the opportunity for small gatherings, but reminds us of our significant duty of care, and advocates that we do not take unnecessary risks. As followers of a Compassionate God, we value health and safety guidelines to make decisions on how to gather as the Body of Christ.
As a resource for communities of faith to planning for re-opening, we offer to you this two-part guidelines’ document. The first part offers a road map to start thinking about the journey ahead, including taking time to reflect on critical questions to consider what ministry in the next phase of COVID-19 will look like. The second part deals with some very practical issues about being ready to resume, based on the three phases or stages of The United Church of Canada’s re-launch plan and current safety and health guidelines. We will continue to update this document as new information becomes available. Presently, I am seeking further clarification on the topic of singing safely.
At this point, Chinook Winds Regional Council is not recommending an expansion to Phase 2, even though the Province of Alberta has indicated that religious gatherings of up to 50 people or one-third of normal attendance (whichever is smaller) will be allowed as of June 1, 2020. It is our assessment that the risk outweighs the benefit of in-person gatherings at this time.
Regional Councils are responsible for making recommendations about reopening. Community of faith governing boards should make decisions based on directions provided by local public health, provincial health ministry and its regional council.
Several churches in Chinook Winds Region have already indicated that they likely won’t consider in-person worship and gatherings until at least Labour Day. Others expect January 2021 is more likely to be a full return. In the last two months, our churches have found many ways to be the church without in-person gathering or making use of our church buildings and many of you tell us they will continue such efforts.
Chinook Winds Presiding Officer Helen Reed recently tested out how the Alberta protocols would work in one of her pastoral charge’s church buildings for a requested funeral. Since the building typically hosts, 180 people, she thought the recommended 50 would be feasible. “But then we spent the morning measuring. Keeping the two metre spacing, our sanctuary holds a tight 40, probably better at 30,” said Helen. “What we thought spacing looked like was not what it actually was with a tape measure beside us.”
In the words of Bishop Karen P. Oliveto of the United Methodist Church: “I do not want one single case of COVID-19 traced to one of our churches because we did not care for those whom Jesus loves.” As always, your Regional Council staff are available for consultation and support.
Treena Duncan, Executive Minister