Archdiocese of Regina COVID-19 news update: As parishes re-open, communication is key

St. Joseph parish, Moose Jaw, SK, has worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to stay in touch with parishioners. (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Regina)

By Alison Bradish, Archdiocese of Regina News

[Moose Jaw, SK] – They wanted no one left behind in their communications. Phases, questions, changes, and new directives are what all organizations faced in the last three months due to Covd-19.  For parishes around the Archdiocese June brought the faithful back to churches empty since Mid-March.

Now upon entering, there is no holy water, cordoned off pews, questions about your health at the door and names being recorded, direction of what aisles to take and what seat is marked off as safe.

Related: Public celebrations gradually begin in Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon (LINK)

For St. Joseph parishioner Gilles L’Heureux in Moose Jaw, the pandemic was a personal call for him to help ensure fellow parishioners would not grow apart because of physical distancing.

L’Heureux headed up the St. Joseph Faith in Action Pandemic Response Committee established within days of the announcement that gatherings over 10 people were prohibited due to a provincial state of emergency with the onset of Covid-19 March 18, 2020.  With the help of a core group of volunteers and the blessing of the Parish Pastoral Council, the team set out make sure every one of its parishioners were contacted either by email or phone.

“I was afraid that many people in our parish community would be left in the dark in terms of what was going on.  I was concerned some people might fall by the wayside because they have needs our parish can meet and we wanted to do what we could to meet those needs,” says L’Heureux.

To do this a Facebook page for the parish was set up and emails were sent out to those parishioners who had left that information with the parish during the Stewardship weekend.  St. Joseph’s CWL helped with a phone tree to contact parishioners not on the email list.

The fruits of the effort were tangible.  Two hundred people joined the Facebook page, volunteers made themselves available to reach out and the sense of community remained as the parish entered Holy Week.

“It was an affirmation that it is crucial for us to connect with parishioners.  In a sense I felt it was something that was lacking in our church outside of people attending Mass,” says L’Heureux acknowledging the difficulties large parishes can face when people often only go to one Mass and therefore miss others who participate at a different time.

“There is a need for us to solidify that connection, and also it opens up that notion that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to help,” says L’Heureux.

His next challenge was reopening parishes for Mass June 8, 2020.  He coordinated attendance at Masses when places of worship were first limited to 30 people, not an easy task for a parish that serves roughly 600 families. For L’Heureux it is a relief the amount of people the government is allowing to gather has increased. Going forward Mass will be a first-come first-serve basis.

“I’m chomping at the bit in terms of getting  back to normal and I hate and I do not use the word ‘new normal’ because I want to go back to normal,  because it is possible and I think if we increase our faith and trust in the Lord to be with us in these concerns.  Yes, we need to be prudent, cautious but I am hopeful we can get back to normal,” says L’Heureux.

Rose Mary Hartney a member of Church of Our Lady (COOL) Pastoral Parish Council in Moose Jaw and head of the liturgy committee.

As many parishes did, COOL did their best to reach out by phone and email.  Hartney says a good thing coming out of that effort is an updated contact list since many people have given up landlines and registering more people officially with the parish.

“I’m under no illusion that I’m sure we missed people but I think we have made some good connections with people and reconnections and I think there has to be some onus on people themselves to reach out if they need information or are looking for information. But I think the visiting and connecting people have done on the phone and online has been a good thing,” says Hartney.

For her the pandemic brought to light the conundrum of having most of their volunteer base categorized as the vulnerable sector. Many who were bringing communion to the sick and shuts ins before the pandemic are age 65 and older.

“We are going to need some additional volunteers if we are going to maintain some of those programs,” remarks Hartney.

Despite the challenges Hartney says the past few month have helped confirm her faith more.

“I think it’s the whole nature of faith that you persevere. That you carry on and you believe there is a purpose to all of this. It will be resolved,” says Hartney commenting on the value of praying for those who are sick, those who are caring for them and the scientists and researchers who are working to figure it out.

The Saskatchewan Government’s recent guidelines for places of worship requires that social distancing of two metres be maintained and allows for religious gatherings of up to 30 per cent of a building’s capacity or 150 people, whichever is less. (Within that total amount, groups of 30, with social distancing of two metres between households/individuals, must also be separated by at least five metres.)