Sioux Lookout churches beginning to open their doors, host physical services
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Various churches in Sioux Lookout have been opening their doors to the public and hosting physical services while maintaining mandated safety measures such as social distancing and capacity restrictions.
In a news release on June 8, the Government of Ontario announced places of worship across the province are permitted to open with physical distancing in place and attendance restricted to a maximum of 30 per cent of the building capacity.
Local churches that have reopened said it’s been a positive experience so far. They said online methods, such as livestreaming and video uploading, will remain in place to accommodate those who are unable to attend or choose not to attend physical services.
“We opened up the first Sunday that we could (June 14)… It’s been really good. The folks have been really excited to come back. The attendance has varied, and some people still aren’t comfortable, which is fine. We are continuing to do our livestream for those people that would rather stay at home and feel safer that way… We’re using all the safety precautions that we’re told to use like hand sanitizer, masks are available, and we’ve set up the auditorium with social distancing in mind so everyone is six feet apart. We’ve done all those things to ensure people’s safety and that we’re following all the guidelines,” said Nate Hochstetler, Pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship.
“Livestreaming has been a great way to minister to people both up North and in our community. We’re looking to continue with it… Our livestream can be seen on our Facebook page (Cornerstone Christian Fellowship)… According to our building we can have 36 people in attendance. The most we’ve had in attendance since reopening is 32 people, so we haven’t needed to turn anyone away. For the time being, it’s first come first serve,” he said.
“We reopened on July 5 after taking some time to evaluate what was required. We had 30 people in attendance, and it was an opportunity to gather together and really feel like we were having church together. All of the protocols of social distancing were in place,” said Mark Barrett, Lead Pastor at New Life Assembly.
“We want to continue to do what we can to accommodate everyone, so we’ve decided that we’d continue with online services as well as our live services to accommodate those that are unable to be here due to health, work, or concern. We’re taking the safety of our people as a priority of why we do what we do. With all the safety measures in place we’re trying to make it as comfortable for people to be able to return to church in a physical sense, recognizing that we still have restrictions and protocols that we need to put in place to keep people safe. Our welcome back video, along with our guidelines, is on our website (thenewlife.ca),” he added.
“We reopened on June 28. Since March, every couple weeks our team of Elders has been meeting to put contingency plans in place… We didn’t foresee the 30 per cent building capacity mandate, which was pretty cool. We weren’t expecting that. Our contingency plan had scenarios for 25 people or 50 people, but we didn’t see 30 per cent of your building capacity becoming the protocol… We have about 85 seats set up in our sanctuary,” said Aaron Murray, Youth Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church.
“Most people have been really thankful and excited to be back in the building, and people have been really careful and good about keeping within the directions. They’ve been managing social distancing, washing their hands at the door, and we’ve asked people to wear a mask during singing if they’re going to sing. We’re trying to take any precaution necessary so people feel safe when they do come to a service.
“We set up a YouTube channel (Calvary Sioux Lookout) to stream our services from. We’ll continue to stream our services live on Sunday mornings for those that can’t attend or are uncomfortable coming in. For the foreseeable future we’ll continue to put those things up online so we can serve those that can’t come to the building physically,” Murray explained.
Other churches in Sioux Lookout, such as St. Mary’s Anglican Church, St. Andrew’s United Church and the Sioux Lookout Seventh-day Adventist Church, have decided to keep their doors closed at this time. In the meantime residents are still able to attend and enjoy their services digitally via Zoom, which is a platform for video and audio conferencing.
“We had a meeting once we were allowed to open with 30 per cent capacity, which would allow us to have in the neighbourhood of 40 people. We know, with the physical distancing, that there was no way we could have 40 people in the church. Along with that the protocols, the cleaning, the sanitizing, the signage, and everything was just huge, so we decided to not open until at least September 6. We decided, at the same time, that we would offer our own service. We’ve been joining other churches in the diocese from the time COVID-19 started, so we decided as of June 14 to do our own services via Zoom. We have been doing that, and we’re willing to invite anybody that makes a request to be part of that. They can email the church at [email protected],” said Muriel Anderson, churchwarden at St. Mary’s Anglican Church.
“In addition to the Sunday morning services we are also having, and have had right from the beginning of COVID-19, a bible study on Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. via Zoom. There too we can provide anyone who would like to take part in that with an invitation,” she added.
“Right now we’re operating online… We haven’t made a decision yet as to when we’re going to be reopened to the public. In the time being we are still having online services. People can visit our website (siouxlookouton.adventistchurch.org) and also our Facebook page (Sioux Lookout Seventh-day Adventist Church) to access the Zoom links,” said Garth Geddes, Pastor at Sioux Lookout Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“We have a lot of vulnerable people in our congregation, elders and people with compromised health systems, so we have decided we are not going to meet as a church in the church until at least fall. We will relook at it in September and see where COVID-19 is across the board. In the meantime we have developed an amazing Zoom service, so every Sunday morning we have a Zoom service and we connect people far and wide. Some of our folks that have moved away from us, one from Calgary and one in the States, have been joining us. The majority of our folks can access that. It’s been a really wonderful experience to at least have that virtual connection,” said Susan Barclay, Secretary of the Board at St. Andrew’s United Church.
“People can email the church at [email protected] to receive a Zoom invitation. In August we normally don’t have church. The last few years we haven’t had a paid minister on staff, and we usually take a month off… This year we are not going to provide services in August, but we are going to provide people with as many links as we can find to various online services that they might like to join. We will publish it on our Facebook page (St. Andrew's United Church - Sioux Lookout),” Barclay concluded.