April 15 marks big days for those of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths, all observing religious holy days — Good Friday, Ramadan and Passover.
For many people in Calgary, this year marked the first time since the start of the pandemic that they will celebrating in person.
This Good Friday, Rev. Murray Speer finally got to meet some of his congregation in person.
“It’s exciting, but it’s also a change and it’s like starting over,” Speer said on Friday.
Speer started at Wild Rose United Church in 2020, when services were only held online. The church is now welcoming everyone without pre-registering.
“I think people are really hungering for being close to each other. We won’t be able to quite yet do the things that really nurture us — the hugging, the hand shaking and sharing food — those sorts of things. Hopefully, that will come within the next few weeks depending on what happens, but I think even just sharing the space and seeing each other physically is going to be really restorative,” Speer said.
He said they’ve taken their time opening up at Wild Rose United Church, with masking and social distancing required.
“I’m conscious that I’m risking more than just myself. There’s my children, there’s cancer patients in my family. So I’m still on the side of precautions.”
This Easter weekend at Grace Presbyterian Church, masks and social distancing are required but they won’t be asking for proof of vaccination any more.
“It’s still sort of the strangeness of the uncertainty that we are in with the announcements that we are in a sixth wave and what does that mean? We are just trying to be open for people to both be in person and online with us so that people can worship in a way they feel comfortable,” said Rev. Jake Van Pernis.
Van Pernis said, like other churches, they will continue to offer online options. He said community members who have returned to in-person services have enjoyed getting together again.
“They’ve said how great it is to be present with people and to wave at them from across the room. To be able to smile at one another and see the smile of the eyes behind the masks and share a space together,” Van Pernis said.
Islamic Relief Canada’s Grand Iftars return to Calgary this long weekend for the first time since 2019, with a sold-out event in Calgary on Friday evening.
The event involves breaking Ramadan fasting while fundraising for programs supporting orphans around the world.
Iftar is the meal following a fast, whether it be during the month of Ramadan or other times throughout the year.
“We had a couple drive-in Iftar events, where the community were still able to get together and sit in their cars and enjoy breaking our fast together,” said Wael Taleb Jr. Fundraising Coordinator with Islamic Relief Canada.
“But this year we are very excited to be able to join and have everybody come together as a whole,”
Taleb said over the last two years there’s been a lot of pent-up demand for the community to get back together and be involved with one another in person.
“We’ve been getting so many calls and emails and text messages. We’re completely sold out at this event tonight. The main difference of this event is this year we are going to have a lot of excitement, lots of people showing up and lots of smiles on everyone’s faces and it’s some thing that we are really looking forward to,” Taleb said.
For the first time in two years, Calgary Jewish families will be welcome to come to the Seder in person at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue, or take part online to celebrate the start of Passover on Friday evening.
“It’s so wonderful to be able to confidently feel that we can bring people into the synagogue safely, that we can all be together to celebrate this wonderful festival of freedom,” said Rabbi Cantor Russell Jayne with the Beth Tzedec Congregation.
Jayne said they are trying to do as much as possible to make Passover accessible to everyone no matter what their comfort level is.
“Tonight finally after a two-year hiatus we are finally going to be able to get everyone together together and I know for some of my congregants that won’t be able to make it to the Seder here at the synagogue, they are also having their families over in greater numbers for the first time after two years.
“There’s a little bit of freedom in being able to come back to the synagogue. There’s a little bit of freedom in knowing that if I still don’t feel comfortable coming into the synagogue, or if I’m a little bit too far away to actually get to the synagogue this year, I can actually have the Seder experience over the live stream,” Jayne said.
“True freedom is about coming together in all of our diversity and we can actually accomplish that this year.”
The Way of the Cross, normally held by St. Mary’s Cathedral on Good Friday, was cancelled for the third year in a row. Diocese of Calgary Bishop William McGrattan said there wasn’t enough time to get permits and organize the event after the recent lifting of health restrictions.
“The Way of the Cross here in Calgary has a long tradition. As the restrictions were lifted about at the beginning of Lent, we tried to see what was possible, but the number of permits and some of the administration that goes into the planning behind the scenes takes a couple of months,” said McGrattan.
McGrattan said seeing worshipers come together again to celebrate Easter is a welcome sign of hope and encouragement.
“I think most people are experiencing this with a sense of hope that further restrictions won’t be required and therefore the celebration of faith in communities can get back to normal,” McGrattan said.