On May 25, the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), Dr. Bonnie Henry, and other provincial leaders unveiled B.C.’s Restart: A Plan to Bring us Back Together. In that plan we heard about the four-step gradual opening from the current “circuit breaker” so that by September 7 we should be back to many more freedoms (if all goes according to plan). You can read more about this online or your favourite source for news.
But what does this restart mean for the Diocese of New Westminster? Let me outline the plan for worship in the diocese as linked to the four steps of the Provincial Restart Plan.
Step 1: Starting May 25.
Effective May 25, there is no change to onsite/in-person worship restrictions in the diocese. Currently the PHO has not made any changes to worship attendance protocols, and I am NOT giving my permission for any changes to take place between now and June 15. This means that for outdoor worship there can be a gathering of up to 50 people (with all required COVID protocols in place). There is no indoor worship allowed at the moment unless it is for recording online worship (with a maximum of 10 people). The PHO has suggested that there could be some changes to this Health Order in the near future but for now I do NOT give my permission for any indoor worship (except for recording or filming worship).
Step 2: Earliest Start Date June 15.
At this stage, the expectations for outdoor worship appear to remain the same. Indoor worship allows for 50 people. I do give my permission for parishes (and other worshipping communities) to plan to re-open for indoor worship starting June 15 (unless the PHO changes this date). This would mean that all the COVID protocols would need to be in place (masks, distancing, hand hygiene, contact tracing, etc) to ensure the safety of all. Eucharist (the bread or Body of Christ only) may be offered. At this stage the ban on congregational singing will remain in place. If your parish filed a Phase 3 COVID Protocol Plan last year, that will come back into effect during this period (no need to resubmit).
Step 3: Earliest Start Date July 1.
In this step there will be increased capacity for both indoor and outdoor worship. The COVID safety plan remains in place. The actual numbers allowed for worship will be posted later. The COVID restrictions needed in this step will also be posted later. Some social activities will be permitted.
Step 4: Earliest Start Date September 7.
Essentially in this step we are returning to pre-pandemic practices. There would be no restrictions but merely suggestions (i.e. wearing a mask indoors is a personal choice). More information about this step will be available at a later date.