Pastor Samuel Acey is wondering whether it would be possible and feasible to hold outdoor services for his Pentecostal churches in Hay River and on the Hay River Reserve.
Outdoor faith-based gatherings of 25 people or fewer are a permitted activity in phase one of Emerging Wisely, the recently-released plan from the GNWT to ease Covid-19 restrictions.
“Outdoors, I’m positive we can come up with something in the next couple of months,” said Acey.
The pastor believes the very earliest he would be able to offer outdoor services is the end of June.
“There are things we’ve got to watch out for because it’s not as simple as just saying ‘Oh, we can have church outdoors because we can gather outdoors now,'” he said. “There are certain numbers that we have to worry about. There’s certain sanitization we have to worry about. And there’s certain aspects to our service that we can’t do.”
That includes not being able to pass an offering plate, offer communion, or have children in a nursery area away from their parents. Plus, people at high risk from Covid-19, like seniors and those who are ill, would not be allowed to attend.
Acey said he would love to offer services outdoors, but only if all the safety requirements are met.
The pastor is seeking more information from the GNWT, the Town of Hay River and K’atlodeeche First Nation.
“We want to be a benefit when we come back to all people that are going to be seeing us, all people that are going to be hearing about us, all people that are going to be attending,” Acey said.
The pastor has some initial thoughts about what outdoor services might look like.
“Social distancing will still need to be enforced in some capacity by ourselves, and we will definitely make that possible,” he said. “So we’re not talking about shaking hands, not talking about any sort of greeting in that aspect or encouraging it in any way.”
As for where outdoor services might take place, Acey said there are a few possibilities, such as the parking area and green space around the Hay River Pentecostal Chapel or somewhere else in town like ball fields, the beach or parking lots.
Acey is also seeking more information on the possibility of people attending services while staying in their vehicles.
There are usually between 50-80 people at Sunday services at the Hay River Pentecostal Chapel, which raises the possibility of more than one outdoor service to accommodate them all in groups of 25 or fewer.
“We would need to do multiples or multiple days to fit that in there,” said Acey.
An average of 10-12 people attend services at the Dene Pentecostal Church on the Hay River Reserve, and many of them are elders.
“We want to be cautious of the fact that there’s a lot of seniors over there,” said Acey. “There’s a lot of people that are vulnerable on the reserve.”
Acey also noted he wants to get clarification on some grey areas in the mitigation measures for outdoor faith-based gatherings.
For example, the guidance for phase one in Emerging Wisely doesn’t mention singing at outdoor services, although no singing would be allowed for indoor faith-based gatherings under phase two.
The pastor has not presided over an in-person service since March 15 when the Pentecostal churches in Hay River and on the Hay River Reserve were both closed because of the Covid-19 crisis.
Since then, he has been offering online services, which he noted have been going well.
However, Acey said in-person services are more special for people than online services.
“It’s that familiar connection, that fellowship they can have with one another,” he said, adding there are also great benefits to a person’s mental health in being with other people.