The Calgary church is nearly empty, but the joyous organ and brass instrument music fills every corner of Knox United Church on Easter Sunday morning.
They are triumphant sounds at a time when so many are feeling defeated.
“I was calling it ‘Pandemic Easter 2: The Sequel’ because here we are, over a year later, and we are still dealing with the pandemic, and we are dealing with numbers that are more frightening than they were this time last year,” said Knox United Church minister Rev. Greg Glatz.
Knox United Church in downtown Calgary remains closed for in-person worship. It’s big enough to hold 800 but Glatz doesn’t want to take any chances.
Easter Sunday service was broadcast via Zoom with a handful of musicians. The message this year was on gratitude and focusing on the positive.
“Yes, I’m disappointed that the vaccines haven’t rolled out as fast as we had hoped but they are rolling out and there’s a whole bunch of people who are already vaccinated, especially in long-term care homes, that were completely vulnerable this time last year,” Glatz said.
Calgary Catholic churches accepted reservations for a limited number of Easter service seats and for the second year in a row, the Way of the Cross did not proceed through downtown streets on Good Friday.
The province’s public health measures limit places of worship to 15 per cent capacity.
A handful of churches in Alberta have defied those orders.
“I think churches have a huge role to play in getting people to stop thinking with toxic individuality and start thinking in terms of community,” Glatz said.
Glatz said faith communities can do a lot of good but can be toxic as well.
“If you have been going through decades of thinking that God has somehow anointed you to know the truth that nobody else does, it’s going to be pretty hard to listen, so that’s the danger with religion. It can either get us to work together or it can get us to think that we are somehow special,” Glatz said.
“As soon as they start defying orders or they stop working with the larger community, I don’t support that, and I think it should be called out.”
A recent Angus Reid survey shows that four in 10 Canadians who regularly attend religious services said that COVID-19 restrictions on places of worship, compared to other public venues, have been unfair.
“The average person who doesn’t attend church sort of thinks of church alongside of entertainment and other things that people do in their private lives. What they forget is the fact that faith is a fundamental part of a believer’s identity, and in that sense, it’s not optional,” said Ray Pennings, Cardus executive vice-president.
Pennings said that evidence shows there has been widespread compliance with public health orders among religious communities despite some people feeling that the orders are unfair when compared to other gathering places. He said communal worship is a core part of many believers’ identities and that the lockdowns are personally costly for them.
Glatz said there is a lot of anger in society now, which he believes is a result of disruption.
“I think our base response is fear and it shows up in terms of anger or anxiety,” Glatz said.
He said his Easter message is about looking to that light at the end of the tunnel.
“We all get to those points where we think it’s hopeless. It’s over, and then I do think life surprises us with a plot twist. Just when we’ve given up completely, all of a sudden, something shows up that tells us there’s a new chapter beginning,” Glatz said.