Update: September 9, 2021
The Government of Alberta has now included an exception for places of worship in regards to its mandatory mask/face covering requirements:
However, local municipal bylaws must also be taken into consideration. For example, the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary require masks/face coverings to be worn in places of worship. Where so required in the province, the lay faithful is required to wear masks or face coverings for the duration of the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services, removing them only when receiving the Divine Eucharist. Clergy likewise are required to wear masks or face coverings at all times, removing them only when leading a liturgical service or preaching within the sanctuary or from the solea; once they leave the sanctuary and solea, masks are required.
Our Full Response:
With Alberta having now met certain thresholds in reduced number of new cases of COVID-19 and decreased numbers of hospitalizations, we have moved into Stage 3 of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan.
What concretely does that mean for churches?
With the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions, we can return to normal capacity church attendance, catechism and Bible-study programs, congregational and choir singing, coffee and social gatherings, and all the things we have missed as part of our ordinary church life.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the pandemic has ended. COVID-19 is still with us and will be for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, we should not be surprised should there be need for new restrictions, either provincial, regional or municipal, especially where new COVID-19 outbreaks occur.
What to expect when you attend Church?
Many of our parishioners who have regularly attending Divine Liturgies and other liturgical services can vouch for the safety precautions we have adopted this past year in order to keep our parishioners and visitors safe in our churches during the pandemic.
At the same time, I appreciate that some parishioners may remain cautious as to their attendance at Church services even with government restrictions being lifted.
I wish to assure all our faithful that we will maintain several safety practices so that you may feel confident and comfortable in returning to regular Church attendance.
For example, hand sanitizers will continue to be available at the entrance and exit to our churches for your personal usage.
You are free to continue to wear a mask or face covering even though it may not be mandatory.
We will continue to use single-use individual spoons in distributing Holy Communion.
And the Church will continue to be cleaned and sanitized after each Divine Liturgy and liturgical service.
We welcome you back; we missed you!
If you have been away for awhile, I personally wish to welcome you back to Church! We have missed you, and we pray that you have missed us!
More importantly, Jesus has missed you!
As Christians, we are first and foremost people of the Eucharist. At each and every Divine Liturgy, Jesus offers us his body and his blood for the forgiveness of our sins and for life everlasting.
While participating from home in live-streamed liturgical services have provided much needed spiritual care during these trying times, live-stream does not substitute for our spiritual hunger and need to receive Jesus’ body and blood each and every Sunday.
For Jesus’ sake and for your spiritual well-being and salvation, please do plan to return to your local parish in the not too distant future.
A Word of thanks and gratitude
Finally, I express my gratitude to our clergy and lay leaders who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in responding to the extraordinary needs in providing pastoral services so far during the pandemic. Your love and kindness in adding additional liturgical services, providing live-stream, preparing and cleaning our churches, welcoming and screening parishioners, and so on, have been a tribute to your love for God and for the Church.
A special thank you to our faithful for your generous moral and financial support during the pandemic. I have been pleasantly surprised by how you have found meaningful ways of ensuring that prayer, the Word of God, and the Eucharist have been the centre of so many peoples lives through your generosity. May God reward you a hundred-fold.
I look forward to our renewed efforts in fund-raising through pyrohy/varenyky suppers, fall and spring teas, praznyks, Malankas, fall harvest dances, bake sales, and so on, which not only provide much needed financial assistance but also bring together the community in support and celebration. I jokingly tell my friends that when all of these wonderful fundraising events start up again, I won’t have to prepare a home-cooked meal for several nights each week!
Let us continue to prayer one for another.
In conclusion, may we continue to pray for God’s blessings upon all during the pandemic! The reality of the pandemic is still upon us. Many will get sick, some requiring hospitalization, some dying.
We will continue to count on the many front-line workers who tirelessly give of themselves to the point of exhaustion and self-sacrifice.
Let us do our part in keeping each other’s safe.
Yet, at the same time, as Christians, we live in hope for a better future where Christ, the Lover of Humanity and the Physician of All, will shower his blessings upon us as we endure the pandemic and do the things that will demonstrate that indeed we are all brothers and sisters, and that “by their love, they will know we are Christians.”
May God bless you and take care of you!