The Salvation Army won’t open its doors to parishioners in more than 70 congregations across Newfoundland and Labrador this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province further eased public health restrictions on June 25 as it moved into Alert Level 2, allowing places of worship to reopen. Some places like the Masjid-an-Noor mosque in St. John’s, have resumed services, and The Salvation Army says deciding to remain closed wasn’t an easy decision.
“Everyone’s safety is our No. 1 priority. And that’s what we’re really trying to do here as we make these decisions, which are not easy, but necessary,” said Maj. Rene Loveless, a secretary for public relations and development with the church.
Public health guidelines state that faith-based organizations must promote physical distancing, register participants and keep a record of who attends service for contact tracing, and enhance sanitation. Attendees must not shake hands, hug, pass collection plates, share microphones, have choirs, play wind or brass instruments or hold Sunday school for children.
“After reviewing the guidelines that were provided to us by the public health authority we quickly realized how difficult this would be to implement and manage everything,” said Loveless.
Loveless said they decided not to open because there are challenges with sanitation, attendance would be limited and they would have to register attendees.
In a letter posted on Facebook, The Salvation Army also said “limits around physical distancing prevent us from visiting and enjoying fellowship together.”
The Alert Level 2 guidelines say “congregational singing is discouraged. Participants can hum, where appropriate.” Loveless said congregational singing is a key element of worship for the Salvation Army.
For the summer, The Salvation Army has decided to offer drive-in services, with the Army saying guidelines around those services will be provided in coming days.
He said members of their congregation are disappointed, but that they understand the situation.
“So we decided, again, based on these kinds of things that the best option for the Salvation Army is to continue with online services and for gatherings to go the route of drive in services for the summer months,” Loveless said.
The turnout for online services has been impressive, said Loveless, with people enjoying the experience even though it’s not the same.
While The Salvation Army buildings will remain closed for regular services, Loveless says they will open for weddings and funerals.
“Not being able to to be walking with people through times of bereavement by being there with them as we would like to, and also through times of sickness, has been difficult for all of us to handle,” he said.
Throughout COVID-19 restrictions the Army has continued to operate its food banks and family services.
“We have been able to operate safely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and can safely meet the needs of people in the community and we’ll certainly be continuing on with that in the days ahead,” said Loveless.
As of Monday, Newfoundland and Labrador had gone 32 days without a new case of COVID-19.