Yellowknife Christians will be looking forward to Easter Sunday this weekend, but some pastors say that continued public health restrictions remain prohibitive to practice.
Last year’s Easter services had in-person gatherings scaled back due to Covid restrictions being put in place weeks before. Roughly a year later, church leaders are looking forward to at least some traditional services taking place again for 2021.
At the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, worshippers completed Maundy Thursday on April 1. This was followed by Good Friday service on Friday morning.
Rev. Bryan Haigh said that he is looking forward to Holy Communion services on Easter Sunday morning but added that numbers are restricted to 25 and he requires people to sign up ahead of time.
“I don’t want to be turning people away on Easter Sunday. We have an overflow facility with video relay of the service if needed,” he said.
”It has been extremely difficult over the last year for ministry. While we appreciate the hard work of those in health and government and the preventative measures regarding Covid-19 many of us have been frustrated by the inconsistencies in the regulations with places of worship being hard pressed.”
Demand for pastoral care up since last Easter
Haigh said he has done his best to ensure that regulations are followed but added that it doesn’t seem like there is any end in sight.
“The damage being done on so many levels is alarming and pastoral care required for stress, anxiety, fear, financial burdens and domestic concerns has risen substantially,” he said.
Rev. Linda Marcotte with the Yellowknife United Church, is the newest minister in town and as per tradition among clergy, will be presiding over the 7 a.m. sunrise service at Pilot’s Monument Sunday morning.
She will also be overseeing an Easter Sunday service at 11 a.m. at her church, but isn’t anticipating high numbers to be of a concern. The church is only allowed to provide space for 50 people with 36 on the main floor and 14 in mezzanine, according to Covid-19 related restrictions.
The service will be marked with the music of Susan Shantora and Ari Snyder as well as children’s festive presentations.
“We are not doing a sign up and we are not expecting the numbers to be high like Christmas where we had to give out tickets,” she said. “We know that a lot of members in the congregation realize it is beautiful out and are heading to their cabins.
“Easter is the whole point and the highlight of the Christian year, but it is spring and people have different ideas on how to celebrate Easter than going to church.”
Jason Brinson, executive director and associate Corps officer with The Salvation Army Yellowknife, said that he is pleased he will be able to have a mix of congregation and online service at his church on Sunday.
“We have a small congregation and so we don’t have the same challenges with those churches with larger memberships of 80,” he said.
“Each individual church has taken their own approach to apply to the chief public health officer to try to ensure that regulations will apply to them.”
Brinson said that the CPHO is taking a number of factors into consideration for safe practice which include the physical space as well as the ventilation system for airflow.
People that gather are also not allowed to sing and have to hum and be masked, he added.
Looking back, he agrees that restrictions have been hard for churches, but health restrictions have been reasonable.
“The year has been challenging with Covid with some churches having to shut down and have limitations,” he said.
“It is a counter culture to what we are used to and we are not used to having restrictions on congregations and sacramental practices like communion and those types of things.
“It’s not been easy but I think on the other hand we have managed through it and we are thankful we do have a reasonable amount of freedom to do what we do in our country.”
The GNWT Department of Health and Social Services provided a statement noting the special significance of Easter weekend.
“Easter is a special and important time of the year for many people in the NWT and traditionally a time to gather with family and friends,” stated Darren Campbell, media spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.
“In general, we’re asking folks in the NWT to stick to the public health guidance on gatherings and events. No more than five additional people visiting in your house.”
Campbell added that if people hold an outdoor gathering with 50 people or less, everyone must stay remain metres apart.
Residents are also advised to check in with family, friends and neighbours virtually, such as with a video chat, virtual Easter or through social media.