Religious leaders predict 50% capacity for Christmas services, many will welcome the unvaccinated


Christmas church services have traditionally been reserved for standing people, but with the latest COVID-19 restrictions, most places of worship will be kept at 50% capacity, with additional areas open to safely accommodate everyone.

Catholic Bishop Gary Gordon and Anglican Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee both said cathedrals would be kept at half capacity to comply with recent provincial health ordinances. These ordinances limit attendance at religious gatherings to 50 percent if all participants are not vaccinated, or to 100 percent if all are vaccinated.

As the pandemic continues into a second Christmas season and cases of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron arise in British Columbia, health orders also require masks to be worn by anyone five years of age and older. at religious gatherings, including choir members.

Gordon, who represents the Diocese of Victoria, said he reintroduced a mask requirement in September. But while congregations have been encouraged to get vaccinated, priests don’t want to turn people out at the door because of their vaccination status, especially at Christmas.

“Our encouragement is for people to do whatever will make them feel the most safe, secure, healthy, happy and at peace – I mean, peace is the big Christmas message, no. not? Said Gordon, who will be broadcasting a 5pm Christmas Eve Mass live from Port McNeill.

“If you are feeling good and healthy and have no immunocompromised health issues, go outside,” he said. “But if you have any health issues or are caring for an elderly or immunocompromised person, you need to stay home and take care of what you need – we encourage people to find their place. of peace.

Greenwood-Lee said the Diocese of the Anglican Islands and Inlets has forced congregations to wear masks throughout the pandemic and has consistently limited capacity to 50%, which has led some churches to sign up for the Christmas Eve. The unvaccinated were invited to pray online, she said.

While it can be difficult for small venues, masks and capacity limits are a small price to pay to keep everyone safe, Greenwood-Lee said.

Choir members have learned to sing with masks and shields, and some churches are adding extra services to accommodate everyone.

“We’re happy with our adaptability,” said Greenwood-Lee, who encourages people to call or check websites to find in-person and live hours for services and to see if registrations are being taken. .

Greenwood-Lee isn’t concerned that crowds of people will be forced to be turned away, as most people likely wouldn’t be comfortable attending a full church in the midst of the pandemic.

“We think it’s important to tell the public that if you come to an Anglican church on Christmas everyone will be masked and it will be at a maximum capacity of 50 cents and people can then decide if they are there. ‘comfortable with that or whether they prefer online worship,’ she said.

Sridevi Ganti, public relations manager at the Cultra Avenue Hindu temple in Saanichton, said the five-day Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, was held in November, ahead of the latest provincial health ordinances imposing masks and capacity limits. Despite this, “most people already wore masks,” she said.

People had to register to come to the temple, which allowed the administration to space out arrival times for prayer and confirm the number of meals needed. Hundreds of meals that were usually served in the temple were packed and brought home by the congregation, she said. The next temple celebrations will be a wedding and baby shower before a New Year type festival. The Hindu New Year is March-April, but for January 1 there will be a small celebration – Havan, prayer to the god of fire.

“People might be partying until 4 am, but in the morning they want to shower and start the New Year by going to the temple,” she said. All arrivals are asked to be vaccinated: “We continue with a full vaccination required, masks and 50% capacity – we want to do all three,” Ganti said.

Mahmoud Shaheed of the Masjid Al-Iman Mosque on Quadra Street said all provincial health restrictions were updated at the mosque on December 1, as required.

“We have informed everyone that those who are vaccinated… everything should be fine as long as we wear our masks and follow proper hygiene and all precautions to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Shaheed, a pharmacist.

People at high risk, such as the elderly and those with chronic or immunocompromised illnesses, are advised to avoid larger congregations, Shaheed said. For the Jummah Prayer, or weekly prayer, screening for COVID-19 symptoms is done at the door and those who are not vaccinated have been allocated an outdoor space to worship.

Everyone is used to the protocols and wants to keep the mosque open and avoid unnecessary closures or additional restrictions, Shaheed said. “We are all trying to work together to keep everyone safe. “

Rabbi Meir Kaplan of Chabad on Vancouver Island said masks are mandatory in synagogues. With the end of the Jewish holidays in September and October and the recent Hanukkah celebration usually taking place at home, capacity restrictions have yet to impact the celebrations.

Kaplan believes that those in need should not be refused entry to a place of worship, whether or not they are vaccinated.

“I’m trying to convince people, to explain, but I don’t think religious communities should reject people who aren’t vaccinated,” Kaplan said. “But at the same time, I think the government’s compromise is very reasonable in saying, you know, if you don’t agree with your vaccine, then [places of worship] will have to have less capacity.

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