Opening doors

Christ Church Aylmer with doors open
By on September 1, 2021

Parishes enjoy a cautious return to in-person worship

Sunday, Sept. 12 is slated as the day when Anglicans across the diocese will return to in-person indoor services in all parishes, but Christ Church Cathedral and some churches began to open as soon as it was permitted in July and August.

St. Barnabas in Ottawa reopened on July 11, and in August resumed having two Masses on Sundays. “We’ve had a really good response to people coming back to church,” Incumbent, the Rev. Canon Stewart Murray told Crosstalk. “I was getting calls all the time asking when are we open? Can I come to church?” He said he was surprised to find that older parishioners were the most eager to return while younger ones were more anxious about safety.


Murray said that the parish had weathered the pandemic storm remarkably well. Parishioners quickly adapted to online services and lay people stepped forward to help. “Devin Crawley, who has been doing the streaming of our services, short of taking some holidays the last couple of weeks, has been here every Sunday, plus doing things throughout the week for the last 18 months. That’s incredible. People really want to keep the parish going as strong as possible.”

He noted that parishioners had also faithfully continued to support the parish financially throughout the pandemic. 

“They are really excited because after Aug. 3, we are into the different zone and we’ll be able to have more music again. People have been missing that. They love to have the organ and a soloist, but to have even a little quartet would be just wonderful.”

Person managing hybrid worship technology
At All Saints Westboro, a hybrid service streamed in the presence of a congregation limited by COVID protocols happened in July and August. Photo Mark Holzman

All Saints Westboro began welcoming people back into the church for the first time after the spring lockdown on Wednesday, July 7 to the delight of parishioners who were longing to return to services in person. “They are so happy to just see people in-person even though you are still wearing masks. It’s a big change,” said Incumbent Archdeacon Chris Dunn. All Saints has continued to share services online as well. “There are still some people who are reluctant to come out because they are hearing about variants and risk factors,’ Dunn said. “Although I would say that you are probably less at risk at church, because of the precautions we have in place than you are at a grocery store or any shopping centre,” he added, noting that the church is careful to ensure social distancing and distributes hand sanitizer when people enter and when they come forward for communion.”

Attendance reflects summer numbers when All Saints generally would have 90 to 100 people at a Sunday service. On the last Sunday in July, 43 people attended, but about 35 more were watching on Zoom. Dunn said the hybrid model of in-person services and electronic sharing of the worship has expanded All Saints’ reach in some ways. “some will watch even from their cottages now, watch the broadcast either live if they have a good Internet connection or catch up with it later.” He mentioned that a couple from Belleville, Ont., who have friends at All Saints, also often tune in, and that a woman told him that she sends links to his puppet stories for the children’s ministry to a friend in Kenya. 

Some parishioners have also told Dunn that they continued to watch services from home because they wanted to sing along, which was not permitted while the diocese was in the amber stage of COVID precautions. He thought a few more might return to services in the church in early August once the diocese moved to the yellow stage of precautions, allowing people sing if they wear masks. “I’ve warned them what it is like to sing with a mask on… it’s not easy, but… people want to be able to sing together even if it is wearing a mask. So we’re moving forward.”

Many other parishes held outdoor services during the summer. 

Holy Communion in a parking lot
Parking lot communion at St. Thomas the Apostle Alta Vista in July. Photo contributed

St. Thomas the Apostle in Ottawa had another variation, continuing online services until September but inviting people to receive communion in the parking lot outside the church after the online services concluded.

“It’s basically the premise of reserve communion just adapted,” the Rev. Michael Garner explained. “People will walk if they are close, or bike or drive.

 If they are in their car, they stay in their car, so we do a short prayer with them, share the consecrated bread, so another prayer, say the doxology together, and then move to the next person.”

Garner added, “For Father Tim [Kehoe] and I, it is absolutely joyful for us to be able to share these interactions with people…. And I think the feedback we’ve gotten from congregation members who come is that, for a lot of people, it is sort of the highlight of their week….This may be the one human interaction beyond picking up their groceries that they have during the week.  So I think it has really helped maintain connections with Saint Thomas during this really difficult time.”

Although parking lot communion may sound flippant, Garner said, “When I think about Jesus breaking bread, Jesus sharing food, it’s done in the places where people can be and where the people are. So [now] the people can’t be in the church so you are in a space where they can be, and I think that’s been really great.”

He added that it has also been a fun witness to the broader community.” We have people walking their dogs on a Sunday morning and I’m out there not always in an alb, maybe just a clergy shirt and a stole, but sometime in an alb, and it is an interesting witness that the congregation is active,” Garner said. People walk by and ask ‘What are you doing? “Well, we can’t be in the church, so we are bringing the church outside.”


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams is the editor of Crosstalk and Perspective. Before coming to the diocese of Ottawa, she was a staff writer at the Anglican Journal and the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly. She has also written for TIME Magazine, The Toronto Star and Quill & Quire.

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