Faith at a distance: new restrictions for Alberta places of worship

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health announced Mar. 15 places of worship are now subject to health restrictions on large gatherings.

Several temples and churches have suspended services amid COVID-19 concerns

St. Joseph's Basilica, a Catholic church in downtown Edmonton, was quiet Sunday evening as Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced large gatherings will no longer be permitted at places of worship. (Supplied by Lincoln Ho)

Following sparse gatherings of worshippers at Sunday morning church services, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, announced places of worship are no longer exempt from restrictions on large gatherings due to COVID-19 health concerns. 

Last week, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said places of worship remained exempt from restrictions on large gatherings to allow people to maintain some of their daily routines, but she said that has changed due to evidence community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring in Alberta.

Dr. Hinshaw said at the province's COVID-19 public health update Sunday that moving forward all mass gatherings of 250 people should be cancelled, as well as any events that have more than 50 attendees and expect to include high-risk populations, critical infrastructure staff or elderly people in large groups. 

Churches, mosques and temples can remain open, but will have to follow guidelines of social distancing and risk mitigation is in place.

Some places of worship are closing altogether and encouraging worshippers to pray at home. Jamatkhanas across Canada (Ismaili Muslim places of worship) and Anglican churches around Alberta are among a growing list of places shutting down amid health risk concerns. 

Both Edmonton and Calgary Catholic dioceses announced Monday that masses would be suspended until further notice. 

Places of worship introduce new guidelines

While some temples, mosques and other places of worship remain open, many are implementing new strict guidelines and cancelling major events. 

Al Rashid Mosque, a historic Sunni mosque in north Edmonton, has cancelled major events, but currently remains open for those looking to attend prayer. 

Siri Guru Singh Saba Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in the Mill Woods neighbourhood posted an announcement  that Lungar, the kitchen which offers free meals to anyone, will be temporarily suspended and there are new restrictions on prayer rituals. 

On Friday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton excused the elderly, anyone with an underlying health condition, and those feeling even slightly unwell from the obligation of attending Sunday mass. 

Sunday morning churches had unusually small services, with attendees sitting far away from one another in pews. 

"It was shocking and it seems surreal to not see a lot of people attending mass," said Maria Drueco who attended St. Joseph's Basilica mass on Sunday. Normally an overflow of people have to stand in the back of the Church, since seating is full on most Sundays, she said.

"It's a bit sad for me to see," Drueco said, "but it's a realization that people are taking the information seriously and taking whatever precautions they need to take." 

The Archdiocese plans to put out another update about services on Monday. 


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