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What newest lockdown will mean for churches, Christmas services

Churches in Ontario can still go ahead with their Christmas services, as the province-wide lockdown will begin Saturday, Boxing Day. For one United church in North Bay, Ont., this will translate into a hybrid model of both in-person and online services.

'While restrictions will limit our ability to gather in the usual way ... Christmas is not cancelled'

Churches will be allowed to remain open for their Christmas celebrations but then will have to close the doors to their physical building during the grey zone lockdown in Ontario. (Supplied by Ted Harrison)

Some Christians are breathing a sigh of relief that the province-wide lockdown will begin after the Christmas celebration.

The grey-lockdown-zone restrictions are set to begin for Ontario on Saturday, Boxing Day.

Services can still take place, but are limited to 10 people. Most are working to provide services online. 

Trinity United Church in North Bay, is planning two identical in-person services on Christmas Eve, for as many as 50 parishioners at each one. Cleaning and disinfecting will occur between each service. 

However, there will be an at-home option.

"I'm kind of expecting with this lockdown looming that maybe people will not be quite as responsive and that they'll say 'Okay we can watch this [online]," Reverend Ted Harrison said.

"We livestream it on YouTube and then we record it from YouTube on DVDs for people who have a bit more trouble with the technology curve."

Trinity United Church in North Bay, Ont., has added 'pods' at the front of its sanctuary to allow for performers to physically distance from others. (Supplied by Ted Harrison)

Harrison says his Christmas Eve message will remind people about the mental health strain the pandemic has caused, but adds the service will also include some fun. The children's Christmas pageant has been pre-recorded, and the children will sing several well-known Christmas carols.

"Normally that's on one of the Sundays coming up to Christmas, but we said we'll do it virtually; so it required a lot of video editing work," he said.

"We're not denying the reality, but we're also trying to embrace a spirit of lightness when we can."

Sunday service during lockdown

The lockdown will be in place for 14 days in northern Ontario, while the rest of the province will remain under the grey zone restrictions for 28 days.

Harrison says the two Sunday services affected by the lockdown will be recorded and posted to YouTube. They started doing that early on during the pandemic and have continued the practice.

"We have what we're thinking of as a hybrid service that we've had for quite awhile, where some of the stuff is videoed and some of it is live. And we're really trying to role-model all that distancing and using masks and doing things properly," Harrison said.

Anglican Dioceses

Churches within the Anglican Dioceses of Algoma and Moosonee will see lockdown measures that will last four weeks, not just two.

Archbishop Reverend Anne Germond says she felt it was important to take extra time.

Many churches have already changed their Christmas service plans and will offer them online. 

"It is a departure, but you know the first Christmas was pretty simple, so we can go simple too. It doesn't change anything about the reality of Christmas," Germond said.

"While the new government restrictions will limit our ability to gather in the usual way for worship and home festivities, Christmas is not 'cancelled' nor ever will be."

What will this latest lockdown mean for church services? How will the pandemic affect Christmas Eve gatherings? We spoke with a couple of Pastors in the north to find out. 11:58

With files from Markus Schwabe

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