Places of worship in Calgary are welcoming more guests now that Stage 2 rules are in place.
Stage 2 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic took effect on June 12.
There is no cap on the number of people attending worship gatherings if physical distancing measures are in place. For outdoor events and indoor seated and audience events that are not worship gatherings, including wedding and funeral ceremonies, a maximum of 100 people are allowed.
At the Dashmesh Culture Centre in northeast Calgary, there are taped markers on the floor to remind people to keep their distance. The huge prayer hall that used to allow for 500 Sikh faithful can now fit a maximum of 110.
“It brings everyone together and through all this, it’s been hard to be sitting at home and it just gives you a chance to reconnect and be able to clear your mind and enjoy getting out,” said Dashmesh Culture Centre volunteer Raj Sidhu. He said he has no safety concerns about attending services again since COVID-19 regulations shut down the gurdwara in March.
“The committee here and the president did a really good job of protecting people and implementing all the safety aspects,” Sidhu said.
The gurdwara was quick to reopen at the start of June at when Stage 1 of Alberta’s relaunch went into effect.
Now, with Stage 2 rules allowing for 100 people maximum at indoor seated events, there has been a surge of interest in rebooking the dozens of cancelled weddings at the Sikh temple.
“It is a great impact because people have been waiting for years to get married, and with all this COVID-19 situation, everything is changed and weddings were cancelled so they are very excited and happy and lots of parents are excited,” said Dashmesh Culture Centre president Amanpreet Singh Gill.
“They’re calling on behalf of their kids because they really want their kids to get married.”
One of the issues keeping some churches like Knox United Church closed is coming up with protocols to keep people from breaking the physical distancing rules at the entrance where people like to hang out.
The Dashmesh Culture Centre has two volunteers at the front entrance at all times acting as watchdogs for people getting too close. There are also Xs on the floor reminding people of the two-metre distance rule.
“It has been hard. People want to hug and shake hands and there is excitement because it’s open and they’re back to the community,” Gill said.
The Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre off Barlow Trail also has a team of volunteers policing the door and handing out masks and prayer mats. Stage 2 did allow for funeral services again, but that’s not happening there yet.
“It is very difficult to control social distancing, especially when the family of the deceased are here and you know how it is. You want to approach them, you want to hug them,” said Omar El-Hajjar, chair of the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre.
El-Hajjar said the biggest challenge to the community has been closing the mosque for parts of the day. For the first time, it’s only open five times a day for prayers.
“For a lot of our members, their time revolves around the mosque and it’s open 24/7. So for us to close it down, it was really heartbreaking to us and all of our community members,” El-Hajjar said.
As a precaution, the Dashmesh Culture Centre is advising people over 70 and under 10 not to attend services, while the Akram Jomaa Islamic Centre is recommending those over 65 and under 14 stay away for now.
“A lot of them do understand it’s for their own safety, especially for seniors, and they are the ones who can get more affected by COVID-19. And for the kids, they don’t know what not to touch and they might be touching a lot of surfaces, so it’s not safe for our kids,” Gill said.