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Churches face Easter with COVID restrictions

COVID Easter brings changes for churches

LAKELAND - The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many churches to move Easter services to live streams and find other alternatives to celebrate the season once again. 

Restrictions by the Alberta government have forced faith-based organizations to only operate at a 15 per cent capacity, with COVID-19 protocols being followed.  Many churches across the Lakeland will be relying on social media and other options to present their Easter and faith messages to their congregations. 

In some cases, the 15 per cent capacity may be spread over adjacent portions of the church property.  

“Fortunately for us, we have a main sanctuary and then we have a gymnasium,” Pastor Chiwele from the Lac La Biche Evangelical Free Church said, offering more room for those wanting to attend in-person services. 

In any instance, gatherings for faith-based reasons still fall under the most recent pandemic measures issued by provincial health officials. For all faith-based gatherings, social distancing, mask use and frequent access to hand sanitizers are part of the mandate. 

Pastor Chiwele says that Easter is one of the biggest services they hold during the year. When the church reaches its restricted capacity, attendees will be asked to go to the gym where there will be a large screen for attendees to watch a live-streaming of the service. The church will also use social media platforms for those who chose to remain in their homes. 

“Of course we will be streaming everything live on our Facebook page,” Pastor Chiwele said. 

This year’s celebration begins on April 4, at 10:55 a.m. at the Lac La Biche Evangelical Free Church and will be conducted almost like a regular service for past Easter celebrations. 

In St. Paul, Fr. Gérard Gauthier says the St. Paul Cathedral Parish has been "diligently following the protocols set forth by AHS."

One of the church's parishioners, Roxanne Ringuette, stepped up to offer services as coordinator of the parish's efforts.

"She has trained the volunteers for screening and sanitizing and has been a godsend," said Gauthier. "Although we have had a few parishioners who have tested positive for COVID, her insistence that we follow the protocols has helped us to keep the Cathedral open. We owe a debt of gratitude to her."

Gauthier says that when individuals have questioned why all the measures are in place, he reminds them of the need to protect everyone.
 
"It would be so easy if those who were infected had a blinking strobe-light on their heads, but that is a fantasy. So, we assume that everyone might have the virus; and that everyone might be susceptible to the infection," said Gauthier. 
 
"Prevention and protection, as difficult as it is, is the option open to us.  Charity toward one another is our response to keep everyone safe."
Gauthier says he trusts the pandemic will not last forever, and "hopefully when it is  over, we can all say 'we ministered to one another. We did it together.

While churches will attempt to continue as best as they can with the restrictive measures in place, some have been vocal about their concerns with the measures. Near Edmonton, a pastor at one church was recently remanded and charged for contravening the public health orders restricting the number of people in his church.  

Local religious leaders haven’t faced prosecution, but some, like Lac La Biche’s Triumphant Life Centre’s Pastor Brad Boychuk and his wife, the Sunday School Director at the church, have been very vocal on their own social media platforms and local news sites about their feelings. 

Boychuk has posted many anti-restriction messages on social media sites and recently posted: “resign please ... your (sic) misleading the people!!!” on a local news posting about Alberta Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw announcing new on COVID restrictions. Other posts have provided links to nation-wide anti-lockdown organizations. 

Attempts to reach Boychuk and Lac La Biche’s Triumphant Life Centre representative for their comments were not successful by press time. 

The Triumphant Life Centre’s Sunday services begin at 10:30 a.m. and are broadcast live onto the church’s new Youtube channel

Most churches across the Lakeland have their services and schedules posted onto their own social media sites and regional faith-based directories.

*With Files from Rob McKinley and Janice Huser