PEI

Some P.E.I. churches preparing for religious gatherings in the next phase

Religious gatherings are expected to be permitted on P.E.I. soon and religious organizations are looking to find ways to deliver services while following the rules for limitations on the number of people to gather.

P.E.I.'s chief public health officer says guidelines being worked on

Park Royal United Church hasn't held a service since mid-March, when pandemic restrictions came into effect. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Religious gatherings are expected to be permitted again starting on June 1 as part of P.E.I.'s third phase of public health restrictions being eased.

They will be limited to indoor gatherings of no more than 15 people and outdoor gatherings of no more than 20.

Some church officials say they don't expect to reopen their doors until there are more guidelines in place.

Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer, said during the daily briefing on Tuesday that faith gathering guidance was in progress.

"It's a real need out there to address the faith gatherings," Morrison said. "We've heard from many individuals and faith leaders about that importance but trying to balance that risk as we go forward."

Rev. David Campbell, minister with Park Royal United Church in Charlottetown, says they have been uploading sermons on social media to stay connected with staff and the congregation. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Vulnerable population

Some church officials say they don't expect to reopen their doors until the capacity limits are raised.

Rev. David Campbell, minister at Park Royal United Church in Charlottetown, said the usual Sunday services in particular can draw hundreds of people. Co-ordinating a service for so few doesn't make sense.

He said they have been posting sermons online to stay connected and the congregation has been supportive.

"Personally, it's been a flooding of emotions and thoughts and 'How do I do this?" Campbell said. "You know, they didn't teach us in seminary how you're supposed to minister through a pandemic. Nothing like this has occurred for 100 years so it's kind of flying by the seat of your pants."

Campbell says Park Royal plans to reopen in some manner once is it safe to do so for all involved. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

They are working on a plan to start ramping up what they offer, Campbell said, not just for the church services but for those who use the community space.

"This is more than just a place of worship, it's a place of community," Campbell said.

"Several groups come and rent space from us so we need to also have plans as to how they can potentially meet in the various areas of our building here."

Smaller groups

Richard Grecco, the bishop with the diocese of Charlottetown, said some smaller Catholic churches do plan to go ahead with daily masses during the week in Phase 3.

Bishop Richard Grecco says St. Dunstan's Basilica will follow the guidance from the Chief Public Health Office as to when it will be safe to open up to more people. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"I think our people, their hearts are aching right now to return because this is a time when nerves are frayed, patience is needed and so is hope," Grecco said.

"For a huge proportion of people on this Island, they find all of that in their church or their mosque or their synagogue and those items of addressing hope and perseverance and patience, they find that sustenance in their faith community — so yeah, we are anxious to get back to church."

They have been working on an internal document, Grecco said, that has been handed out to priests to follow for those initial masses. 

For example, only every third pew will be used, the communion will be placed in people's hands and hymn books won't be used. 

St. Dunstan’s Basilica has sections roped off to help people with physical distancing when they do go back to church. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Another big change Grecco anticipates is no more congregational singing.

"As has been explained, droplets are pretty dangerous," Grecco said. "Even though our people will be seated more than six feet apart, I think song could be dangerous in a church gathering so we won't be doing that. So those are some of the things that our people need to be prepared for."

He expects to update the document when the official guidelines come from the Chief Public Health Office.

It may be a bit of a shock when people do begin to return, Grecco said, but he hopes people can be assured that officials are doing all they can to ensure their safety and abide by public health regulations.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Steve Bruce

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