For the first time in more than six months, North Vancouver’s Hillside Church was filled with the sound of music, laughter and prayer on Sunday.
“This is our family, so to be together is great,” one arriving congregant told Global News.
“It’s too bad we can’t sing, that’s one thing about us. We always were very good about the singing and the hymns, I’m going to miss that,” said another.
About 40 people gathered for the Sunday service, the first the church has offered since B.C. relaxed restrictions on indoor, in-person religious gatherings last week.
B.C. banned such gatherings in November amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the relaxed rules, up to 50 people can gather for a religious service, though COVID-19 safety protocols need to be followed, masks are required, and singing or chanting remains prohibited.
Pastor Jeff Schuliger said the church had been holding services by video conference, but that the experience wasn’t the same.
“It gets old,” he said.
Schuliger said the church had attendees register ahead of the service, and that as things get back to normal, he expects larger turnouts in the weeks to come.
“With the protection of the vaccination, I feel like we could fill up, and then we’ll add a second service,” he said.
“We feel it’s a really safe space for people — big sanctuary, open doors, high ceilings and the flow in here is nice.”
Schuliger said he believes the prolonged gap in in-person services could reduce the size of the church’s congregation, but said it has also attracted some new faces from out of town via the Zoom presentations.
He also believes new members will find the church as restrictions ease further.
B.C.’s ban on indoor religious gatherings drew strong opposition from some churches in the province’s Fraser Valley and Interior, who continued to hold services in contravention of the order.
Several of the churches took the province to court over the ban.
In March, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkston ruled that the ban did infringe on rights to religious freedom, but that the infringement was reasonable based on the range of options open to the province.
That decision is currently facing an appeal.
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