Churches in Manitoba are looking forward to the possibility of reopening their doors for in-person services, even at a very low capacity.
The Lead Pastor for Steinbach Evangelical Mennonite Church is calling it welcome news.
Garry Koop is referring to the province's announcement on Thursday that it is considering allowing churches to reopen at 10 per cent capacity, or 50 people, whichever is lower.
"Excellent," was Koop's initial reaction. "One of my colleagues was saying it's a beam of hope. So we look forward to it."
He notes any step in the direction towards in-person gatherings is welcome.
According to Koop, prior to COVID-19 crippling our province last year, Steinbach EMC would typically see between 350 and 400 people for its weekend service. He notes their sanctuary capacity is around 550 people, which means they will be allowed 50 people if the province goes through with its proposal.
Koop says right now they are live streaming their worship service each Sunday, using only as many people as is necessary. However, if this change is made to the public health order for February 13th, Koop says he is hopeful that the very next day they might offer an in-person service again. Attendees would need to register, with attendance capped at 50 people. For that reason, Koop calls this announcement a big deal.
"Because we are created to live together in community," he explains. "And that involves being physically present, seeing each other, hearing each other."
Koop says Steinbach EMC has been operating within the parameters given to them. And so, he says their attendees miss the regular interaction. He notes they have been tracking certain people who do not have access to the internet.
And, though he says being able to offer a service online is a great option, it does not take the place of being together in person.
"Human contact," he says. "It's so vital."
Meanwhile, the Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church in Steinbach says he is surprised and grateful to see the province moving a little bit on the restrictions. The church launched a petition last month, asking the province to allow church buildings to be used again.
"These changes, however, are unlikely to be beneficial to many churches," says Eric Honsberger.
According to Honsberger, the ten per cent will keep many small churches reduced to one or two families because of their building capacity. He notes the 50 person cap will make it logistically difficult or impossible for other churches to gather.
"Even for a smaller church like ours this would likely involve four to five meetings," he suggests. "Corporate worship isn't just a movie where you can just run it five or ten times if you need to. We are still praying and working for greater changes."
Cornerstone Bible Church currently offers a parking lot service on Sundays. Honsberger says they have yet to decide what sort of service they might hold on February 14th, if these changes come into effect next weekend.