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‘We can still smile and wave.’ NWT church services head outside


Sunday mornings at St John’s Anglican Church in Fort Smith look a little different than they used to.

This past Easter Sunday, for the first time, congregation members pulled into the church parking lot and didn’t get out of their vehicles to file into pews.

Instead, they tuned their car radios to hear the service being broadcast from a short-range FM transmitter, then sang and prayed along. 

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“The congregation loves the drive-in services, they really do,” said Rev Alexander Pryor, noting the services have become so popular, they’ve had to expand to other parking lots.

Since pandemic restrictions have banned indoor gatherings, clergy at St John’s have been delivering services online. But by the time Easter Sunday rolled around on April 12, Pryor said congregation members missed seeing one another.

“So much of being a church is being together,” he said. “This is a way that we could still get that sense of community and that sense of togetherness while still respecting all of the public health regulations and things.

“So we can still smile and wave and spend time together that way.”

Pryor said so far, the church has held three drive-in services, but there are plans to offer them every other week. He said they will keep doing other events online. 

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Since pandemic restrictions were introduced, many religious groups across the Northwest Territories have found unique ways to connect. While that has largely involved turning to the internet, as the weather gets warmer, more services are heading outdoors.

St Patrick Co-Cathedral in Yellowknife has been holding mass in the church’s parking lot since May 19, when phase one of the territorial government’s plan to ease restrictions came into effect. A maximum of 25 people can now attend outdoor faith gatherings, as long as they maintain social distancing and other conditions.

Fr Marek Pisarek in front of St Patrick Co-Cathedral. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

“We cannot sing but we have birds as a choir,” said Fr Marek Pisarek, adding other differences with the service include the fresh air and noise from traffic. 

“Other than that, we pray the same way as we pray inside.” 

Pisarek said around 2,000 to 3,000 people belong to the church’s congregation, and around 1,200 to 1,300 regularly attended Sunday mass before the pandemic.

He said turnout during the outdoor weekday masses has been similar to pre-pandemic numbers – around 15 to 20 people. 

“We just wanted to come back to pray and to celebrate our faith as a community,” Pisarek said. “For all Catholics, the sacrament and the Eucharist is the most important part of our celebration of faith, so having the mass online is not the same as attending live mass.

“We pray that as soon as possible we will be able to come back to the regular and normal life of the parish.” 

Indoor faith gatherings of 25 or fewer people will be allowed in phase two of the government’s plan, along with conditions, slated to come into effect in mid-to-late June. Conditions on indoor gatherings won’t be lifted until all pandemic restrictions in the territory are over, anticipated to take at least 12 to 18 months.

St Patrick Co-Cathedral is holding outdoor masses in the church parking lot at 5:30pm from Tuesday to Friday. Weekend services are held at Trappers Lake Spirituality Centre – on Highway 3 outside Yellowknife – at 5pm or 6pm on Saturday and 9am, 10am or 11am on Sunday. People can register on the church website to attend.

Congregation members of St Patrick Co-Cathedral are seen at outdoor mass in a submitted photo.

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