Canadian province bans Communion distribution, singing as churches reopen
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EDMONTON, Alberta, May 14, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Alberta Catholic churches are banned from distributing Communion when they reopen today under Premier Jason Kenney’s partial lifting of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
According to the province’s Guidance for Places of Worship, religious services “must not include sharing food or beverages,” and “must not include any contact between congregants such as handshaking or the sharing of communal items (e.g. communion chalice).”
The guidance also states that “congregational singing is a high-risk activity and is not allowed.”
Kenney, who is a Catholic and voted pro-life during his years as a federal Member of Parliament, announced Phase 1 of Alberta’s regional economic relaunch on Wednesday.
The plan keeps current shutdown in place in Calgary and Brooks, hardest hit by the Wuhan virus, but allows a number of businesses — retail stores, hair salons, museums, daycares, day camps, restaurants and cafes — to reopen with restrictions elsewhere in the province on May 14, reported the CBC.
Churches, mosques, synagogues and “any other place of worship” are also allowed to reopen Thursday with restrictions, said Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications for the ministry of health.
“When stage 1 begins, places of worship will be able to hold services, provided they follow the guidelines provided by the Alberta government,” he told LifeSiteNews in an email.
“All worship leaders are still encouraged to hold services remotely and to use creative mechanisms whenever possible,” added McMillan.
“It will be up to each place of worship to determine if they are ready to open and to ensure all guidelines have been met,” he said.
“For those wishing to host services, Alberta will allow places of worship to operate in a manner similar to how businesses that are currently open to function,” McMillan added.
“They will need to keep attendance under 50 or 1/3 capacity (whichever is smaller), as well as take steps to mitigate risk by following the guidance and ensure the activity is done safely.”
When asked about the distribution of Communion, McMillan said churches “should not do so, as indicated in the guidance. Whenever possible, they should find alternative options to limit touching and sharing of items.”
However, McMillan also made a distinction between guidance documents, which are “not binding and mandatory,” and public health orders, which are.
“In terms of the restrictions, there are specific public health orders that will continue to be in place, such as physical distancing, things like that, so those will continue to be enforced. But overall guidance, those are not mandatory, at this time,” he told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.
“We expect people to do the right thing,” added McMillan.
Moreover, “if someone does observe that people are violating the guidance, certainly our public health officials will be able to contact whatever location it will be, to provide input,” he said.
But while guidance documents may not be not health orders, they still use “imperative language,” points out Jay Cameron, lawyer with the Calgary-based Justice Center for Constitutional Freedom.
The guidance states that worship services “must not include sharing food or beverages,” and “must not include any contact between congregants such as handshaking or the sharing of communal items (e.g. communion chalice),” he emphasized.
“My guess is the guidelines are issued because they’re supposed to be a requirement, and so when you use imperative language, that’s a prohibition,” said Cameron.
His reading is that “what the government is saying” is that communion, “or the exchange of bread and wine from one person to another, is not permitted still,” he told LifeSiteNews.
It’s undeniable that there is “quite a bit of confusion about these guidelines and restrictions which are, number one, different from province to province, and number two, are not drafted in plain language,” added Cameron.
Part of the problem is that the government is being “willy nilly” about what is law, and what is not, he observed.
“Where is the law? Is it up on a website? Who makes the law? Does [Chief Medical Officer] Dr [Deena] Henshaw make the law? Who knows?” he said.
“But you get a ticket for $1200 if you don’t observe the Public Health Act... It’s very confusing. It’s not how the rule of law works,” Cameron said.
That was echoed by Pastor Patrick Schoenberger of Medicine Hat’s Heights Baptist Church.
“What I’m finding is there are mixed messages, and there are contradictions,” he told LifeSiteNews, adding that while the document is called “a guidance,” it clearly says that “congregational singing is not allowed, period.”
His church board hasn’t met yet to discuss reopening, so he did not have an official position on how they will respond, but in his view, the shutdown “is a bigger threat than the virus,” Schoenberger told LifeSiteNews.
“I don’t know a single soul who’s been affected by this virus, but I know people who are being affected by unemployment, depression, anxiety, isolation, loneliness,” he said.
“We are the church, we are parts of one body. The whole idea of social isolation is, in a lot of ways, foreign to scripture.”
As well as its negative social consequences, the shutdown poses a “threat to rights and freedoms: freedom of assembly, freedom of religion,” Schoenberger said.
“I’m not afraid of the virus. What I am afraid of is the loss of freedoms in our country, the propaganda war that’s promoting fear, that’s what I’m concerned about,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“We need to live life and we can’t live in fear.”
As for Alberta’s Catholic bishops, they have yet to publicly respond to the guidance.
“The bishops will be consulting further with the Chief Medical Officer of Health [Deena Henshaw] as they continue to discern a plan for a gradual reintroduction of public masses, so the Archbishop is not prepared to comment at this time,” said Lorraine Turchansky, spokesperson for Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith.
Smith and Calgary’s Bishop William McGrattan are heading a task force to “discern when and how” the bishops will reinstate the “gradual reinstatement” of public Masses, according to the Edmonton archdiocesan website.
Contact information for respectful communication:
Premier Jason Kenney
307 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue NW
Edmonton, AB, T5K 2B6
Phone: 780 427-2251
Email: [email protected]
2105, 230 Eversyde Blvd SW
Calgary, AB, T2Y 0J4
Email: [email protected]
Check Campaign Life Coalition website, here, for the name and address of your Alberta MLA.