Some Whitehorse churches consider live streaming services due to COVID-19

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse will continue to hold masses, while Riverdale Baptist Church is suspending services.

Yukon Muslim Society limiting prayers to 50 people

The Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cathedral in Whitehorse is one of several religious institutions in the city making changes amid COVID-19 concerns. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Yukon religious groups are making changes in light of concerns about COVID-19. 

Masses in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse are continuing throughout the week and the weekend, but are limited to 50 parishioners. The diocese includes 22 Roman Catholic churches in Yukon and northern British Columbia.

Other dioceses in Canada have cancelled masses as a precaution due to COVID-19.

Yukon's chief medical officer of health and premier declared a public health emergency Wednesday. On Monday, gatherings of more than 50 people were banned in the territory.

A letter from bishop Hector Vila to parishioners says for those who can't attend mass due to symptoms or self-isolation, "the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is lifted."

While mass will be going ahead this weekend, Vila said they are exploring the option of live streaming. There is already an option to watch daily mass on television. 

The diocese is also taking extra steps, based on advice from the Yukon's chief medical officer of health, Yukon Health and Social Services and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. 

Changes to communion, classes and celebrations

"We determined not to have both species at the holy communion," Vila said. "So before we were having the wine, the blood of Christ, and the bread, the body of Christ. We reduced it only to the body of Christ."

Bishop Hector Vila of the Catholic diocese of Whitehorse. He says for those who can't attend mass due to symptoms or self-isolation, 'the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is lifted.' (Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto)

Vila also said communion will be placed in a parishioner's hands rather than their mouth. And those distributing communion will clean their hands beforehand.

"We also had the prevention of having to shake hands at the sign of the peace and also we removed from the church the holy water for blessing."

Other changes include limiting baptisms and weddings to immediate family and postponing classes for baptism, first communion, first reconciliation and confirmation. Funerals will also only be held with immediate family and no vigils or wakes will be held. 

Vila said the diocese is also trying to spread priests apart to not have too many together. 

One Whitehorse-based priest is going to Carmacks, Yukon, to avoid having three priests living together. 

Support for elderly church members

At the Riverdale Baptist Church, interim pastor Barry Aitken said they are also looking to stream services online.

He said there are currently no Sunday services but services will start streaming either March 22 or March 29. 

Afternoon prayer at the mosque in downtown Whitehorse in 2018. Amid concerns with COVID-19, prayers are being limited to 50 people. (Meagan Deuling)

Aitken arrived in Whitehorse last week amid the start of COVID-19 precautions in the territory. 

He said church leadership is making sure elderly members stay home and is offering to pick up prescriptions and groceries for them. 

The Whitehorse mosque is also making changes and limiting prayers to 50 people. 

If there are more than 50 people, two prayer sessions will be held, according to Yukon Muslim Society president Kashif Zafar. But he said about 25 people usually attend.


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