Members of 100 Mile House’s faith communities are looking forward to celebrating Easter Mass in person, albeit in outside venues only.
Four days after Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a public health variance order on March 25 to allow for indoor worship services on four days between March 28 and May 13, she reversed that decision Monday, following a spike in COVID-19 cases. The temporary variance had required physical distancing, masks, and a limit on attendance to 50 people or 10 per cent of capacity, whichever is less.
Henry said the allowance was always conditional on the state of the pandemic, noting on March 29 there have been 329 new cases of variants confirmed by testing since Friday, part of a total of more than 2,500 cases recorded over the weekend.
“We are hoping that things will improve. I tell people not to give up, I tell people to trust in God,” said Father Emmanuel Onumadu of St. Jude’s Catholic Church. “I choose to count my blessings than look at the negatives.”
Onumadu and the parishioners of St. Jude’s Catholic Church said they intend to make it work. Weather allowing, Onumadu plans to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Jude’s parking lot, with Holy Thursday at 7 p.m., Good Friday at 3 p.m., Holy Saturday at 8 p.m. and Easter Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
He will preach from an altar set up outside which will be warmed by plenty of space heaters to keep “the poor priest from freezing to death,” he said.
Parishioners will have the option of either sitting in chairs set up in front of the altar or sit in their cars and listen to Onumadu speak via the radio. The mass will also be broadcast on the church’s YouTube channel for those unable to attend in person. Onumadu doesn’t want any of his parishioners to risk their health and advises if they’re not strong enough, to watch the mass. The Eucharist will be offered following COVID-19 protocols, he added.
Onumadu encourages everyone in 100 Mile House not to give up in the fight against the pandemic. While he understands the frustration, people need to stay strong and not let their sacrifices be for nothing.
“People are so happy to come and be present. This time of the year is the most important time in the life of the Church when we celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ giving up his life for our own salvation. So it’s really important for my parishioners to have the opportunity to be physically present.”
Steve Silvera, a parishioner at St. Judes since 1973, said he the reasoning behind the restrictions on churches, but it doesn’t make sense to him that they have been closed longer than other places. The protocols they had in place for celebrating the mass over the summer were stricter than most restaurants and he felt safe, he added.
“No one is saved on their own, we are saved in a community. We have to be with one another and when Christ calls us to communion he’s calling us to worship together and be for each other,” Silvera said.
Still, he said he’s looking forward to celebrating the Easter Mass in person this weekend, noting it’s deeply important to him.
“A video has spiritual benefit, no question, but it’s not the same.”
Hillside Community Church head pastor Clint Lange said not being able to meet in person has been hard for his church, too. His congregation will also celebrate Easter with a drive-in mass this year. Lange said the church has a low-power FM broadcaster, which they used for drive-in services over the summer, so they decided to do mass using their parking lot as their venue for 25 cars.
Hillside will offer two services on Sunday from 11 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. He’ll preach from the church’s porch while a band plays beside him to give people the full experience. If people wish to attend he advises they call the church at 250-395-4637 and reserve a parking spot.
They’ve been doing their best to keep in contact with each other via social media where he’s released a Sunday service at 10 a.m. each weekend via Facebook and YouTube. Lange added they intend to do more drive-in services this summer and have already rented a stage for when they begin in May.
“We’re really looking forward to when everything calms down here and everything opens up again. It is going to be a celebration. There’s something special about a good number of people lifting up praises to God together. Just something that can’t be reproduced electronically.”