By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance.
There isn’t much that the current COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t had an effect on, including church services across the province.
In addition to the many businesses that were forced to closed due to the ban on public gatherings brought into place in March, churches also fell victim with many of them still closed despite the relaxation of some of the rules.
With the relaxation of the social distancing guidelines set by the government, the province is moving through the phases of reopening, allowing churches to plan for the resumption of services post-pandemic.
The first church in Castor to reopen was the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, which resumed its Sunday Mass services on June 7th under guidelines set out by the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the public health guidelines issued by the Province.
“No one is obliged to come to Mass, the dispensation from the obligation to Sunday Mass is still in action,” wrote Circun Gendre, parish secretary.
“If someone is feeling even slightly unwell, they are asked to refrain from attending Mass.”
Precautions in place at the Catholic church include all attendees of services being required to use hand sanitizer upon entry, and the church is requesting members wear non-medical masks, though they can be removed once the service starts provided there is enough space between non-cohort individuals.
The church is requesting that anyone wanting to attend a service arrive at least twenty minutes before the 11 a.m. start time, as the doors will be locked, and nobody allowed in once the service has started.
Prior to the service, parishioners will be met outside the front entrance where some information is collected regarding health, and then ushers escort individuals into empty pews.
After the service, parishioners are directed outside through another door, then the facility is cleaned by volunteers to provincial and Archdiocese guidelines.
Another of Castor’s churches, the Evangelical Missionary Church, is also in the process of reopening and will be welcoming church attendees into the building for the first time since March on July 12th.
Similar procedures will be put in place at the Evangelical Missionary Church as at the Catholic Church, including a sign-in, where attendee information will be collected and held for two weeks in the case of a COVID-19 case connected to the church being found.
The offering plate will not be handed around, and the microphones used by the worship teams will be disinfected after every service.
Non-medical masks are not required, but they are encouraged, and the church has a supply of them on hand to hand out to anyone requesting one.
Some pews will be marked off to encourage social distancing, and individuals will be asked to sit at least six feet away from someone outside of their immediate family.
In addition to Sunday services resuming, the church will continue producing weekly devotional videos posted to their social media along with a written email devotional forwarded to church members.
The Knox United Church in Castor currently has no plans to reopen before the end of August, though Reverend Barbara Zimmerman will continue to post video devotionals and produce printed services.
The Untied Church’s board will be meeting again on Aug. 18th to “plan the way forward,” according to Zimmerman.