'We can do it safely': Saskatoon pastor says current COVID-19 cap on church guests not 'reasonable'
SASKATOON -- Father Matthew Ramsay, pastor at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Saskatoon, said he’s disappointed the provincial government has lowered the capacity for places of worship from 30 per cent capacity to just 30 people effective April 16.
Ramsay said pre-pandemic, St. Anne’s Church can hold 900 guests between the main seating and overflow areas. Cutting the number of people to 30 has been tough to understand. He said a blanket restriction means a church with a 2,000-person capacity and another with 150-person capacity are treated the same.
“If we compare that to other businesses where they can welcome more people based on their size and that makes sense, we understand why that might be the rule, but why it’s a hard cap of 30 for churches no matter what, it’s hard to understand if it’s equitable or reasonable,” Ramsay said.
Saskatchewan has extended public health measures, including limits on places of worship, to May 10.
While places of worship across Canada fight public health measures, including GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton -- where Alberta RCMP have put up a chain-link fence around the property, Ramsay doesn’t believe things will get too extreme in Saskatoon.
“We don’t want that to happen here,” he said.
On April 7, Alberta Health Services said it physically closed the building and is preventing access until GraceLife “can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health’s restrictions.”
Between July 2020 and April 6, 2021 Alberta Health Services (AHS) said is received 105 complaints about GraceLife and conducted 18 inspections. Violations were seen at each inspection, AHS said.
Ramsay said the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon simply wants to work with the province to figure out a way to allow more than 30 guests at a time into his church, while respecting the provincial health orders.
“When we are careful and responsible we find that we can do it safely,” he said.
During the pandemic Ramsay said St. Anne’s has been holding five masses a week, two on Saturdays and three on Sundays. Despite this, people have been turned away because of capacity limits.
“It’s incredibly hard when you think about having 30 people in this building, there’s a lot of empty space and when someone shows up at the door wanting to come to church, we have to tell them sorry you can’t.”