Churches once again move to celebrate Easter under lockdown

Before the pandemic, All Nations Church was able to hold up to 700 individuals but under new restrictions, there is room for roughly 200 people and there are new rules in place for the congregation. June 14/2020 (Molly Frommer/CTV News Northern Ontario)

It's a Holy Week in the Christian calendars and several churches are doing some 'out-of-the-box' thinking to reach the faithful as leaders mark another Easter under lockdown.

New restrictions across the province have capped religious services to 15 per cent capacity.

"Certainly compared to last year we've stepped it up," said Bishop Thomas Dowd of the Sault Ste. Marie diocese.

"Last year everything was shut down completely, there really was no Easter celebration at all. This year the celebrations are restricted."

Dowd says they're now better equipped to do broadcasts and reaching more people from a distance.

"We do have people that are able to come and I'm grateful for that and you might say I see them as ambassadors for the rest of our community," he said.

The church has also gone to the trouble of delivering thousands of kits to their congregations across the region that include Holy water. There is also an instructional video so they can do the ritual themselves at home.

"Last I heard we already had 8,000 of those already spoken for so the distribution will continue, not just on Easter Sunday but throughout the season so we're doing our best. We're adjusting, but we're doing our best," he smiled.

Reaching loved ones during this pandemic has been a challenge and churches are no exception. The Bishop himself, had a career in telecommunications before entering priesthood. He's so far enjoying adding that new element to the parishes.

“Now I don't think anything can replace, totally replace the face-to-face, replace the fact of being a community together. There's something that's so special about being in the same room and the spontaneity that comes from that, but if this is what we've got, this is what we've got, and I think we have to look at the glass as half full," he said.

Over at All Nations Church, Pastor Sean Morton has only been in his position for about a month but he's excited to learn more about his congregation.

"We're currently offering our service at 10 AM and we're inviting people to join us under the COVID protocols that we have but we're also offering those services online as well as on the radio," he tells CTV News.

Morton will be the first to admit it's challenging for everyone right now but safety, he says, always has to come first.

"Christianity itself is meant to be experienced by community, it's about you know getting together really and getting to know each other that way and so of course it's difficult but we're doing our best to do that by phone and by Zoom, we're using technology," he said.

"Of course all of us have that hope that is going to be the last Easter we're going to be celebrating in this sort of manner," Morton added.

"We're looking forward to the day where we can gather as a church community."

It's a similar sentiment in New Sudbury at St. Stephen's on the Hill United Church where their small congregation is planning a short, drive-in service.

It's Reverend Catherine Somerville's first-ever drive-in service. Somerville herself is relatively new to the church, having returned from St. Andrew's in downtown Sudbury, and she's looking forward to it.

"We never thought of this," she laughed.

"We were really just told we can have 15 per cent capacity inside but everyone's locked down and they're very anxious and so we just thought 'what can we do that's different?'"

Somerville says each car will be presented with a copy of the sermon along with some traditional Easter treats.

"You have to use adaptive behaviour, I think this is what this pandemic has taught us," she said.

"We used to have to do technical fixes, we knew how to fix our problems fairly easy but now we have to think it through a little more."

"It's being able to be together in spirit and worshipping together and experiencing the joy and sharing the hope," said St. Stephen's congregation member Heather Mitchell.