Closed doors, tiny funerals: what coronavirus means for the churches

All over Canada Sunday morning as the novel coronavirus loomed, people who had missed last-minute phone calls, e-mails and Facebook posts arrived at church to find a message delivered in person or just as a notice taped to the door, in one form of language or another: Go home.

“Sunday was very strange,” says downtown Toronto Anglican priest Maggie Helwig, whose church feeds about 100 people early Sunday morning.

“I was up at 5, as I normally am, and went in for the breakfast, but we had to abruptly, and without any warning for our guests, introduce a takeaway format. People came in, we gave them bags of food, they were able to use the washroom and then they had to leave immediately,” she said.

“It’s hard to do.”

“I’m glad we’re still able to give people food, but people also want their social space and somewhere to sit down, Some of them have been walking around all night, and we had to tell people that they couldn’t stay, but we gave them bags of food and did a big wipe down of all the high touch surfaces with Lysol wipes before and after, which took a fair while.”

After that, Helwig led a service, livestreamed on Facebook, that involved only two other people, one of whom was filming it.

“A couple of people turned up. We’d send out emails, we’d done a phone tree, we’d done all that, but still a couple of people turned up and we had to say, ‘I’m sorry, no church today.’”

Helwig was acting on instructions from her bishops, who had told clergy late Friday (capitals in the original) that:

“The key principle to follow is: NO CONGREGATION IS TO BE ASSEMBLED, OF ANY SIZE, AT ANY TIME.”

“Think ‘bare minimum’ in all things,” the bishops wrote. “Although it is antithetical to what Church is all about, our goal at this time must be to gather as few people as possible.”

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