Faith at a distance: new restrictions for Alberta places of worship

Following sparse gatherings of worshippers at Sunday morning church services, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, announced places of worship are no longer exempt from restrictions on large gatherings due to COVID-19 health concerns. 

Last week, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said places of worship remained exempt from restrictions on large gatherings to allow people to maintain some of their daily routines, but she said that has changed due to evidence community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring in Alberta.

Dr. Hinshaw said at the province’s COVID-19 public health update at 4:30 p.m. that moving forward all mass gatherings of 250 people should be cancelled, as well as any event that have more than 50 attendees and expect to include high-risk populations, critical infrastructure staff or elderly people in large groups should also be cancelled. 

Churches, mosques and temples can remain open, but will have to follow guidelines of social distancing and risk mitigation is in place.

Some places of worship are closing altogether and encouraging worshippers to pray at home. Jamatkhanas across Canada (Ismaili Muslim places of worship) and Anglican churches around Alberta are among a growing list of places shutting down amid health risk concerns.  

Places of worship introduce new guidelines

While some temples, mosques and other places of worship remain open, many are implementing new strict guidelines and cancelling major events. 

Al Rashid Mosque, a historic Sunni mosque in north Edmonton, has cancelled major events, but currently remains open for those looking to attend prayer. 

Siri Guru Singh Saba Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in the Mill Woods neighbourhood posted an announcement  that Lungar, the kitchen which offers free meals to anyone, will be temporarily suspended and there are new restrictions on prayer rituals. 

On Friday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton excused the elderly, anyone from an underlying health condition, and those feeling even slightly unwell from the obligation of attending Sunday mass. 

Sunday morning churches had unusually small services, with attendees sitting far away from one another in pews. 

“It was shocking and it seems surreal to not see a lot of people attending mass,” said Maria Drueco who attended St. Joseph’s Basilica mass on Sunday. Normally an overflow of people have to stand in the back of the Church, since seating is full on most Sundays, she said.

“It’s a bit sad for me to see,” Drueco said, “but it’s a realization that people are taking the information seriously and taking whatever precautions they need to take.” 

The Archdiocese plans to put out another update about services Sunday evening. 

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