Niagara churches reopening

October 7, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 21
Maria H. Klassen | Special to Canadian Mennonite
St. Catharines, Ont.
Niagara (Ont.) United Mennonite Church began in-person worship on Sept. 13, 2020. (Photo credit: Rachael Peters)

Vineland (Ont.) United Mennonite Church plans to continue meeting virtually for worship through September, using YouTube video. According to pastor Louise Wideman, the church is planning a cautious tiered approach to reopening. The first step will be to install equipment for livestreaming the service. The next stage will include inviting small groups to join for in-person worship. Eventually, the church hopes to meet corporately, but this will not happen until after the new year. Of course, all of these plans depend on public health regulations.

Nick Schuurman, pastor of St. Catharines (Ont.) United Mennonite Church, says they have been holding in-person services since Sept. 6. To limit risk and accommodate participation, services for seniors and younger generations are scheduled for alternating Sundays. Recordings of services and mail-outs of sermons continue to be appreciated by those unable to attend. A small number of weekday programs are set to begin, either online or with precautions in place, but many activities will continue to remain on hold for the time being.

Niagara (Ont.) United Mennonite Church held a first soft-launch in-sanctuary service on Sept. 13, reports Daniel Janzen, pastor. Congregants are asked to pre-register so numbers can be estimated and to contact trace if needed. With differing advice regarding singing, the congregation has chosen a cautious approach and is not singing at this time. 

Fellowship is another joyful activity but also carries greater risk indoors, so people are asked to safely gather for conversation outside. Youth programs are kicking off again in September and will be a mixture of socially distanced outdoor events and interactive online activities. Plans call for Sunday school to launch virtually in October, with hopes of adding in-person gatherings in the future.

Doug Schulz, co-pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in St. Catharines, listed the core practices of spacing, sanitizing and wearing masks as the congregation meets in the church building. Other details include taking attendance, shorter services, humming or quiet singing, an offering box at the door, and foyer off-limits (except ramp and washroom access).

Services have been held in the sanctuary since the end of July, every other Sunday. The Good Shepherd Anglican church shares the sanctuary with Grace, and they meet on alternate Sundays. Currently there is no coffee time after the service, but people mingle in the parking lot, wearing masks and keeping a safe distance. 

According to Ron Funk of The First Mennonite Church in Vineland, they reopened the church building for worship services beginning Aug. 15, however they also continue to offer a video conferencing option. The sanctuary chairs are set into small clusters to accommodate families, couples and singles, with two-metre spacing. Hand sanitizer is offered to everyone arriving and leaving and extra masks are available. Besides having the church completely cleaned on Saturdays, the ushers also sanitize surfaces such as handrails and door handles on Sunday morning. 

As health guidelines permit, they plan to continue meeting in person on Sundays, while offering the services via Zoom for at least the near future. 

Pastor Herb Sawatzky at Bethany Mennonite Church in Virgil is planning to restart in-person worship services on Oct. 4. Livestreaming will continue for those wishing to participate but are not comfortable attending in person. As well as registering ahead of time, those attending in person will be screened by a volunteer before entering. To avoid congestion, they are asked to show up alphabetically, at a scheduled time. There will be no congregational singing, but the service will include solos and duets—with singers masked, behind screens, and 20 feet from the nearest seated pews. They are planning for communion on Thanksgiving with individualized, pre-sealed communion sets that worshippers will pick up as they enter the sanctuary. Those worshipping from home are encouraged to create their own worship space and communion so that they can all worship together.

Related stories:
Communion and community during COVID-19
Navigating reopening
Marking end-of-life rituals during the pandemic​​​​​​​

Niagara (Ont.) United Mennonite Church began in-person worship on Sept. 13, 2020. (Photo credit: Rachael Peters)

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