Churches feel ripple effect as pandemic rules loosen
'There are still a lot of hurdles that have to be overcome before we are at something we call normal'
It's the first time since pandemic precautions were put in place two years ago that churchgoers on P.E.I. are able to gather at full capacity. But that doesn't mean pews are full.
"We're still at a little less than what we would have this time of year," said Rev. Douglas Rollwage at Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown.
"People are either reluctant or nervous, or themselves ill or exposed or vulnerable."
About 165 people attended the Palm Sunday service at the church, but that number would have been between 300 and 400 in pre-pandemic times.
"It's going to take some time to rebuild — rebuild the trust and confidence that people have in being together," he said.
The church was able to remove some COVID-19 precautions like roping off pews for physical distancing.
"I heard several people say, 'Oh, I can sit in my old seat today,'" Rollwage said.
Those in attendance still had to wear masks and were asked not to shake hands and embrace, but rather greet each other with a wave, Rollwage said.
"There are still a lot of hurdles that have to be overcome before we are at something we call normal," he said.
About 150 people tuned into the service online.
William Henbest, a student minister at the church, knows his job is going to be a little bit different than when he first started studying.
However, Henbest thinks streaming online can have a positive effect. He helped some churches in western P.E.I. set up online video at the start of the pandemic.
"For some people just the idea of coming into a church is a little bit daunting. So, being able to access it in a different way, I think actually a lot of churches found growth."
The online offering at Zion Presbyterian has allowed the church to retain members and even has an international following, said Rollwage.
'Now is the time to begin to come back'
But he added it's time for people to come together to celebrate their faith once again.
"Now is the time to begin to come back and re-enter into the life of community," Rollwage said.
"We need each other and these times of separation have to come to an end, even if that means being inconvenienced by masking or whatever the case may be."
With so many who are part of the church either sick with COVID-19 or close contacts of someone who is, Rollwage said he's unsure what attendance will look like on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.