British Columbia

B.C. religious leaders taking a cautious approach to reopening places of worship

The province is now in Phase 2 of its restart plan, but some faith leaders are not planning to reopen for weeks to ensure safety measures are in place in places of prayer.

Expect faith services to look a little different this summer

The province is now in Phase 2 of its restart plan, but some faith leaders are not planning to reopen for weeks to ensure safety measures are in place. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

The pews will not be packed at Anglican churches in the Lower Mainland this summer.

And you might want to wear some sunscreen on the Sabbath, because if you are going to the synagogue, service could be outside. 

Now that the province is in Phase 2 of the government's restart plan, and British Columbians are testing the waters at salons and restaurants, religious leaders are trying to determine how to safely reopen places of worship. And it could be weeks before the faithful are dipping back into the holy water.

"We want to give leaders a chance to plan carefully," said Melissa Skelton, Anglican archbishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, on The Early Edition Friday.

Despite being a week into the second phase of the restart, Skelton said it will be at least until June 14 when Anglican churches reopen in the Lower Mainland and even then, reopening is optional for the leaders of each individual church.

"Each congregation will make its decision and will apply to our office to be given permission to do that with their very detailed plan," she said.

That plan will have to indicate how capacity in the church will be limited to under 50, as per provincial health orders, as well as how information about attendees will be recorded for contact tracing in case of an outbreak.

A Catholic priest takes confession from parishioners at a walk-in confessional in Vancouver, B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Places of worship closed in B.C. in March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

 'Blesses and Curses'

Dan Moskovitz, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom in Vancouver, said he is not planning a large-scale reopening until June.

"We don't want to be the reason people put themselves in harms way," said Moskovitz, on The Early Edition Friday.

He said when the synagogue does reopen, that doesn't necessarily mean anyone will be worshipping indoors right away, because services will likely be held outside while the weather permits it.

And in the meantime, people who normally attend Temple Sholom are able to watch Moskovitz lead services from home on the video platform Zoom. It is also streamed on television for seniors who feel more comfortable watching that way.

 Moskovitz said putting the services online and on TV also made them accessible for the first time to people who were unable to physically make it to Temple Shalom before the pandemic.

"There are blesses and curses in the midst of this," he said.

Mah Nishtana, from Vancouver, sings to her grandfather during a virtual Passover celebration marking the Jewish holiday in April. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Prayers and the pandemic

Mohammad Shujaath Ali, imam at the Masjid-ul Haqq mosque in Vancouver, said he does not know when people will be able to return  to the mosque in large numbers to pray.

Like Moskovitz, Ali said he has been using digital technology to stay connected with the community and conduct religious education lessons, but that in the Muslim faith, praying virtually is not an option.

"The requirements are very different ... that part we have not been able to do online," said Ali on The Early Edition.

This is particularly challenging during this week, which marks the end of Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims around the world forego food and drink from sunrise to sunset.

Muslims gather for food during 2019 Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Surrey, B.C. Under normal circumstances, Muslim adherents would crowd into neighbourhood mosques for a congregational prayer and sermon before embracing with others and visiting homes for food and drink throughout the day. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that comes at the end of Ramadan. This year, it starts after the last fast on Saturday and is celebrated on Sunday morning.

Under normal circumstances, Muslims crowd into neighbourhood mosques or gather at parks for a congregational prayer and sermon before embracing with others and visiting homes for food and drink throughout the day.

Ali said a limited number of people, all practising physical distancing, will be in the mosque this weekend for the Eid prayer, but when weekly services will resume is still unknown.

He said he is currently waiting for a response to questions he submitted to provincial health authorities asking for specific clarifications about congregation gatherings.

With files from The Early Edition and The Canadian Press

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