We want to thank you for your ongoing efforts to provide ministry in these challenging times. Many churches have begun to offer in-person worship, in a variety of forms, and we are grateful for submitting your re-opening plans to the diocese. It is important that leadership and parishioners understand that our expressions of worship, at this time, will vary based on context and the physical challenges that our particular facilities may present. Here at our diocesan Cathedral, for example, despite our very large physical footprint, maintaining a 2m -6ft perimeter around seating gives us a capacity of only 50 individuals. So, there will be variations from parish to parish in terms of what is practical, and manageable. It is important, however, that we maintain consistency of practice in terms of our protocols.
Those protocols include maintaining spatial distancing, wearing masks in gatherings, recording lists for contact tracing, keeping services as brief as possible, the offering of Communion in bread alone, and limiting the sharing of items used in worship; i.e., passing collection plates, sharing books, physical contact during the sharing of the peace, etc.
Questions have been raised with regard to choirs and singing, particularly in light of the Nova Scotia provincial update of October 1st which indicated: “Gathering limit increased to 50 people without social distancing for participants in performing arts and sports. Participants in performing arts and sports can gather in groups of up to 50 people without maintaining a physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) for practices, competitions, games, rehearsals and artistic performances.”
On Friday (October 2nd) in a briefing chaired by Dr. Strang, with a variety of denominational representatives, this was a topic of great discussion. His comment was that although there has never been a total ban on singing, it is considered a “high risk” activity. In an update published October 5th by the CDC (the U.S. Center for Disease Control) they suggest airborne particles remain active and virulent, far longer than originally thought: “Airborne transmission is infection spread through exposure to those virus-containing respiratory droplets comprised of smaller droplets and particles that can remain suspended in the air over long distances (usually greater than 6 feet) and time (typically hours).” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/scientific-brief-sars-cov-2.html
At this time, we ask that you continue to refrain from congregational singing. If there are vocalists or choirs, they should maintain distance from one another and be as far removed from the general congregation as possible. The fact that we are considered the safest geographic region in North America, with respect to cases of Covid, is directly related to our adherence to health guidelines and the sacrifices we have made in doing so. It is worth reminding parishioners, whenever we gather, that although our practices may be unlike our traditional expressions, it is with the intent of having the opportunity to be in our beloved places of worship.
Questions of Baptismal practice have been raised. There are no reasons baptism practices need to be curtailed. However, it is important to observe the protocols that apply to public gatherings. The principal concerns are to limit numbers, limit length of gathering times, maintain distancing and masking, and observe good hygiene. In the case of infant baptism, for example, having a parent or sponsor hold the child at the font while water is applied would be the best practice. Anointing with oil is certainly permissible (this question came up in our conversations with respect to both Baptism and Anointing of the sick), Dr. Strang’s advice was to use a sanitizer prior to administration. While family members of the Baptized are no doubt in the same (and safe) bubble and can stand together at the font, interaction with the wider congregation should follow distancing guidelines.
How can we adapt to traditional events, particularly those centered around food such as suppers, foodbanks, coffee hours? Again, the overriding principals of limiting numbers, maintaining distances, hygiene, etc., are the primary concerns. Many churches have opted to hold takeout suppers and operate food banks. The same practices that food establishments in the public sector are asked to consider would apply to us. http://rans.ca/files/shares/Reopening%20Guide_Revised_Jun22_2020-compressed.pdf
We hope these guidelines will be of help to you. Dr. Strang will host another gathering on November 2nd which will address ongoing developments and to consider adaptations for the Christmas season as the apply to faith communities. Please feel free to contact us with your questions or concerns.
With blessings to all,
Lori Ramsey, Gordon Redden, Paul Smith