Saskatchewan faith groups are putting their heads together on what resuming worship services would look like and how it can be done safely.
They’re hoping they can bring that collective discussion to the attention of the provincial government.
Meanwhile, as Saskatchewan continues its phased approach to reopening, Regina-Wascana MP Michael Kram is calling on the premier to consider allowing places of worship to resume services sooner rather than later.
A mass without mass gathering
Catholic mass is based on traditions, some of which have persisted for centuries, but at the Archdiocese of Regina, mass has looked a lot different considering COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. In some cases mass has been streamed online with only a priest physically present.
“It’s unusual times for everyone,” said deacon Eric Gurash. “It’s been a challenge not just for Catholics and Christians, but for people of faith across the board. Faith is one of those things that recognizes that we’re made to be together as social beings … and so to have that removed from the equation, it makes things challenging.”
Gurash added that it has also forced church and other faith leaders to get familiar with more remote technological options to gather and minister virtually.
Multi-faith leaders mulling next steps
Gurash said the Archdiocese of Regina is looking for further clarification from the province on when religious groups in the province will be considered for traditional services. He said one of the immediate questions for Catholics in particular centres around communion.
“Gathering together for worship goes beyond simply listening to scriptures and preaching, but it involves this sharing of communion through bread and wine together,” said Gurash. “In a time of pandemic, that adds an extra layer of complexity to how we might do this kind of stuff without putting people at danger and at risk for spreading the virus.”
He said the group is working internally on just how it might continue and be able to practise safely. It has also invited other faith leaders in Saskatchewan to share in a consultation so they can collectively present those struggles and solutions to the Saskatchewan government.
“It’s an important type of contact point among religious organizations to be able to kind of come together as a unified group, and both share the struggles that we’ve been having, and to join together in moving forward through this too,” Gurash said.
“So that’s also a hidden and kind of unexpected light in this struggle.”
Regina Catholics not rushing into return to normal
While the Archdiocese doesn’t have a particular date or goal in mind, Gurash is beginning discussions on what reopening might entail. That includes questions around spacing within church pews, staggering traffic moving in and out of entryways, and many other aspects of service.
“We understand that there’s a deep hunger in ourselves and our faithful through the Archdiocese to gather together again for this celebration of mass,” he said.
“Yet we also understand that the way we celebrate mass can be very conducive to spread of something like COVID-19. So we want to keep our spiritual health in good shape, but we also want to make sure we keep our physical health and the safety of the rest of our friends and neighbours in mind.”
Regina-Wascana MP calling for earlier worship plan
Michael Kram, the Conservative MP for Regina-Wascana, said he was surprised religious services were not included earlier in Saskatchewan’s reopening plan.
“When I saw Phase 4, that it would include bingo halls and movie theatres and casinos, myself and a number of my colleagues assumed that would apply to religious institutions as well,” he said. “Then I got some feedback and some inquiries from my constituents who believed that was not the case, and that religious institutions, you know, churches and synagogues, they would have to wait until post-Phase 5, until everything else has opened back up.”
Kram said he doesn’t see it so much as a mistake by the province, but an oversight. He said he knows it’s a difficult time and that provincial leaders are working hard on addressing a lot of moving parts during the pandemic, but he’s told the premier he’d like to see churches and other worship services included in Phase 4.
“That struck me as a little bit unfair. If movie theatres and bingo halls can open, why can’t churches and temples and synagogues as well?” Kram said.