Ontario churches, mosques and synagogues open for drive-in worship this weekend amid COVID-19

This is the first weekend that houses of worship are allowed to resume services, but only for drive-in gatherings as the province slowly reopens amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some Ontario church leaders have asked Premier Doug Ford to let them fully reopen

The Church of God in Aylmer, Ont. faced the threat of fines when it held this drive-in service on April 19. But houses of worship across Ontario can now hold drive-in services starting this weekend. (Submitted by Herbert Hildebrandt)

Just like retail, colleges and yoga instructors, religious leaders have gone online during the pandemic with live-streamed services.

But starting this weekend in Ontario, churches, synagogues and mosques are allowed to hold drive-in services.

Roger Berg, executive associate pastor of Church on the Queensway, says they've been live streaming since in-person services were put on hold in late March. But with a parking lot designed for 900 cars, he says it made sense to roll out a drive-in service.

A two-metre space will be left around each parked vehicle. And while service will be held at the usual times, they'll only be 45 minutes long.

"No one's allowed to leave their vehicle. And they can't come to use the washroom, so it'll be a short service," Berg told CBC Toronto.

The church's senior pastor will deliver his message standing on the roof of the educational wing of the building at 1536 The Queensway. He says the drive-in service will be in addition to the weekly live-streamed offering, which has been very popular with worshippers.

But Berg says his congregation needs something more.

Roger Berg, executive associate pastor of Church on the Queensway, says with a parking lot designed for 900 cars, the church can accommodate a drive-in service. (supplied)

"Where there is a real problem is the fact that they can't connect to one another; they feel isolated," he said. 

"They are used to a gathering of two to three thousand people in the building and they have the opportunity to see one another," Berg added. 

"Even though they can't get out of their cars they can wave to one another in their vehicles and it's a change of scenery."

U.S. President Donald Trump declared houses of worship essential services on Friday, and some church leaders here have signed a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking to reopen.

At least one house of worship, the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont. sparked numerous complaints and faced the threat of fines when it held a drive-in service last month.

But Berg says his church is not in a rush.

"We're anxious to reopen, but not at all if it would cause any risk or potential harm to any of our congregants."

Church on the Queensway will be open for drive-in services starting this Sunday. (Google)

Others are quite content to continue with online services. For Eid celebrations this weekend, many mosques are marking the end of Ramadan online using social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The Islamic Centre of Toronto at 1630 Neilson Rd. will also be offering an Eid Sweets Drive Thru with loot bags for kids.

Yael Splansky, the senior Rabbi of At Holy Blossom Temple on Bathurst Street near Eglinton Avenue West, says during the pandemic she's turned to the online meeting app Zoom to conduct everything from bar mitzvahs to prayers for the dead.

'This is a gift that we've been given'

"People are very grateful. People are expressing real gratitude because we're able to provide connections while they're sitting in isolation," she said..

"We're providing an anchor in something that is old and lasting. Prayer ritual brings them to something larger than themselves and when the world has been turned upside down, it is very reassuring to go back to things that endure."

And she says, the streamed services have been so successful, they will likely continue post-COVID-19.

"In some ways, this is a gift that we've been given, to slow down a little and return to the things that last and that ground us."

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.


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