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During my 45 years in ministry I have never had to stop Sunday services due to a pandemic. We had skipped a Sunday or two because of the weather (we are in Canada, you know!), but not for more than 100 days.

When we were at Phase II of businesses re-launching in Alberta, we started planning for the church re-opening. Our Peoples’ Warden, Pat Francis, organised our cleaning crew and the purchase of protective equipment and sanitizing supplies. When Phase III was announced, we were ready.

Part of our plan (submitted to and approved by Bishop Jane) for reopening and keeping our people safe included a new look for the way we serve eucharist; a big thank you goes to MacDonald’s for providing hundreds of condiment cups for our Holy Communion services!

During the time of the lockdown, many of our congregation’s members were unable to access spiritual guidance and worship for lack of computer skills or even the right gadgets. There main method of communication is by phone. For the few that can access Facebook, I offered special prayers every Sunday. It was heart-warming to know my messages were still reaching some parishioners of present and past churches I had served and the general public.

Still, when our reopening was announced, people were ready and eager for Sunday worship. There are no surprises when you live in a rural town, people likely knew about the re-opening before I did!

St. Philip’s church bell rang loud and clear at 9:30 am on June 21. People arrived and followed all the COVID-19 protocol to keep safe. As they enter, they were bombarded with warning signs. They all signed a release which satisfied our insurance people and served as a record of who attended service that day. As per the government and diocesan guidelines, there was no singing. But thanks to Jeremy from the Cathedral, we played his CD of organ music instead. Putting on gloves and a mask to prepare the elements was a strange feeling. We flashed peace signs at each other during the Peace. We ALL missed the handshakes and hugs.

Not all of our parishioners have been able to return to church. The local seniors’ lodges are still under lock-down conditions. Even with limited space in our tiny church, we were able to accommodate everyone while still keeping the 2-metre physical distancing spacing.

There was a noticeable absence of lively chatter among people before and after church. I am sad to say that COVID-19 has taken a lot of JOY out of people! Yet the whole experience of being able to worship together again gives us hope. Come what may, we will be here ’til God’s reign arrives!

Submitted by the Rev. Peter Yeung, Rector, St. Philip’s, Westlock