On Wednesday, May 26, new public health measures were announced, beginning the process of easing restrictions and re-opening the province. As noted by the government, “Albertans have been working hard to stop the spike over the last few weeks. Active cases are going down and vaccination rates are going up.” We at Hope Lutheran have been contributing to this effort by refraining from public worship and other church gatherings, and as individuals, becoming vaccinated as that has become available. The fruit of that effort is that a road map is now in place for the easing of restrictions. Here are the elements of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan that are pertinent to our congregational life:

Stage 1 – June 1

  • Places of worship - 15% of fire code occupancy (effective May 28). In our case at Hope this means 52 people.
  • Outdoor social gatherings - up to 10 people (indoor social gatherings still not permitted). This would apply to any potential outdoor worship or gathering plans.
  • Funeral services - up to 20 people, not including facility staff, funeral clergy or organizers not considered guests (receptions remain prohibited);
  • Wedding ceremonies - up to 10 people, including officiant, bride, groom, witnesses (receptions remain prohibited);
  • Restaurants - 4 people per table max, outdoors, households only or 2 close contact for those living alone. At its April meeting Council agreed that our congregation’s benchmark for returning to in-person worship would be when indoor dining was once again allowed.
  • Distancing and masking requirements remain in effect.

Stage 2: Two weeks after 60% of Albertans 12+ (born in 2009 or earlier) have received at least one dose and hospitalizations are below 500 and declining. Expected to be in effect mid-June.

  • Places of worship - 1/3 of fire code occupancy. In our case this would be 115 people.
  • Outdoor social gatherings - up to 20 people with distancing (indoor social gatherings still not permitted);
  • Funeral services - up to 20 people, indoors and outdoors (receptions permitted outdoors only);
  • Wedding ceremonies - up to 20 people, indoors and outdoors (receptions permitted outdoors only);
  • Restaurants - 6 people per table max, indoors or outdoors;
  • Outdoor public gatherings (concerts/festivals) - up to 150 people. Assuming this rule would apply to outdoor worship.
  • Distancing and masking requirements remain in effect.

Stage 3: Two weeks after 70% of Albertans 12+ (born in 2009 or earlier) have received at least one dose. Expected to be effective in late June or early July.

  • All restrictions lifted, including ban on indoor social gatherings;
  • Isolation requirements for confirmed cases of COVID-19 and some protective measures in continuing care settings remain.

What does all this mean for worship and other gatherings of our congregation?

As noted above, at its April meeting Council set the benchmark for our own re-opening as the time when indoor dining was once again allowed. It was deemed that—even if limited in-person worship was officially allowed—for us, acting with an abundance of caution out of care for our members, this would be a reasonably safe time for us to gather as a community for worship. This means that under Stage 1 of the province’s re-opening plan we will still not be gathering in person.

In Stage 2 indoor dining is once again allowed and the cap on worship attendance is 1/3 of building capacity (115 people). If all goes well, this is anticipated to come into effect by mid-June. While full conversations have yet to be had between the pastor, COVID coordinator, and Council, I would anticipate that we will continue to exercise caution at this stage. We might re-open to in-person worship in a limited way (not yet the maximum allowed number), and plan for some outdoor gatherings.

Although no specific guidance is offered on the government website about congregational singing during these stages of re-opening, based on comments from our chief medical officer in a town hall meeting with faith leaders earlier in the spring, we will plan for still no congregational singing during our gatherings, even as we begin to come together in person again. Singing moves a lot of air from the lungs to the surrounding space, and remains a risky activity in groups.

The good news of this announcement is that if we all continue to do our part to keep each other safe there is promise that we may be able to worship fully together by the fall. But it still depends on us all continuing to respect gathering restrictions, distancing measures, masking, and especially, getting vaccinated.

I conclude again with this encouragement from the letter to the Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

God’s peace be with you,

Pastor Kristian