Restrictions on indoor religious services eased, but still a distance from normal

B.C.’s provincial health officer has announced an easing of restrictions on indoor religious gatherings and worship services.

Faith leaders can hold religious services indoors on four days between March 28 and May 13, Dr. Bonnie Henry said. COVID-19 safety plans must be in place and people must not gather or socialize before, during or after services.

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Weddings, baptisms and funerals are not included in the one-time variance, which is being made to accommodate upcoming religious services of Easter, Passover, Ramadan and Vaiskhi.

Indoor religious services can have a maximum capacity of 50 people or 10 per cent of the worship space capacity, whichever is less, said Henry. For example, if the capacity of the church is 400 people, only 40 people may attend an indoor service.

Masks are required at all times. People must maintain a physical distance of two metres, unless they live in the same household, said Henry.

Everyone must complete a self-health check to make sure that people with COVID-19 symptoms or who are at risk of being infected do not attend a service.

No choirs can take part in services. However, musical groups of up to five people can perform. The only people who can sing are soloists and worship leaders, says the order. Only worship leaders can chant.

Henry said the limited variance to the gathering and events order was developed through ongoing dialogue with a wide range of faith leaders.

On Saturday, Premier John Horgan released a statement honouring Passover.

“As we slowly open again, synagogues, temples and churches will be able to safely welcome back their communities in small groups. We know people have missed these connections, and we hope we will be able to gradually resume the parts of our lives we have been missing,” said Horgan.

“Many people will still be spending this holiday away from their family and friends. I want to thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to help keep communities safe over the past year. The pandemic has been incredibly difficult, but we can look forward to better days ahead.”

The easing of restrictions was not made in time for the first night of Passover and the communal seder — the feast that marks the beginning of Passover — at the Congregation Emanu-El synagogue in Victoria.

“That, as we did last year, will be done online,” board member Richard Kool said Saturday. “Last year, we had a very funny meal with well over 100 screens. It was crazy because a lot of people didn’t know how to use Zoom a year ago. It was: ‘Hi, is it on?’ And we’ll do that again on Sunday night. A communal dinner with everyone sitting in their home. But songs will be sung collectively and everyone can see each other.”

Next Saturday, April 3, a morning service will be held in the synagogue, he said.

“Like all the churches, we’re really happy to be able to be back together. There’s something very communal about Jewish worship. There are certain prayers that can’t even be said unless there are 10 people,” said Kool. “The idea of having everyone together is good. But we’re also completely committed to protecting the public health of the entire community by obeying whatever the medical people tell us.”

Iman Ishmail Mohamed Nur said they are trying to figure out how to resume services for the community in a safe and efficient way for all at the Masjid al-Iman mosque in Victoria.

“The new regulations have been received with overwhelming excitement and jubilation in our community, especially now that the month of Ramadan begins in a few weeks,” said Mohamed Nur.

A notice on Christ Church Cathedral website says the diocese will continue to worship online until April 12. Posted March 9, the notice says uncertainty around the easing of restrictions “puts undue pressure on parish leadership and particularly our clergy at an already busy liturgical time of year, during an unprecedentedly stressful period of our lives together.”

The bishop believes that the best path forward at this time, given the uncertainty, is for parishes to continue with online Holy Week and Easter services as planned.

“But Easter is a season, and we will look with hope and expectation that we will be able to gather again in our church buildings later this spring/early summer.”

Several Catholic church websites said mass will continued to be celebrated online.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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