Although it’s the darkest day of the Christian calendar, attending a Good Friday service in person during a global pandemic buoys one River Heights resident in unexpected ways.
"This year, it feels like a huge celebration," Sarah-Jane Beaudry said of attending the 2 p.m. Good Friday family service at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg.
Falling on the Friday before Easter, Good Friday is the day when Christians mark the death of Jesus Christ with sombre services and quiet reflection.
Last year, Beaudry’s family spent Good Friday and Easter Sunday at home, when public health restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 shut down religious services across the province.
"Easter is the greatest day of the year. To not be able to celebrate with other Christians cut us off at our knees," the mother of three young children said.
"This year, it feels like a huge celebration" – Sarah–Jane Beaudry
St. Aidan’s reopened in mid-February after a nearly four-month shutdown under code red restrictions, one of the few Anglican churches to reopen in the last year. Currently, the capacity for religious services is set at 25 per cent or 100 people, whichever is less.
Many churches across the denominational spectrum have remained closed, prepared to wait until summer or even fall, when more people are immunized and the threat of transmitting the novel coronavirus is lessened.
St. Aidan’s regularly fills its 50 or so spots every Sunday, and is fully subscribed for its in-person services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, said Rev. David Labdon.
"It’s been fabulous," he said of the reaction to the services livestreamed on the internet from the Campbell Street church.
"The desire is great for people to be together and supporting each other."
Across the city at St. Boniface Roman Catholic Cathedral, Rev. Marcel Carriére expects to be at capacity for all five services he’s presiding over during the Easter weekend.
"We are gathered, but we are not as gathered as we would like to be." – Rev. Marcel Carriére
But with only 100 people physically distanced inside the 800-seat sanctuary, constructed inside the limestone walls of the former cathedral destroyed by fire in 1968, he said the space still feels empty.
"We are gathered, but we are not as gathered as we would like to be," he said of the limited capacity of the Easter services, which are also livestreamed.
Parishioners can sign up to attend one or two of the weekend services, which includes two Good Friday services, an Easter Vigil on Saturday, and two Sunday masses. This year, the message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection will resonate in new ways, said Carriére, who led services alone from the cathedral a year ago.
"There is suffering, but we believe the resurrection of the world will happen at the end of the pandemic," he said.
"Because of that, I think people will appreciate their friends, family and relationships and celebrate the small and big things in life."
Members of more than a dozen Pentecostal churches in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario can tune in to a recorded Good Friday service, set to broadcast at 10 a.m. Friday.
"We have a lot more understanding of how to touch people when we’re not in the building." – Rev. Bruce Martin
The hour-long service was a co-operative effort between churches resulting from pandemic restrictions, said Rev. Bruce Martin of Calvary Temple in Winnipeg.
"We’ve never done anything like this, because all of us would be in our own churches doing their own thing," said Martin, pastor of the large downtown church for the past 23 years.
He doesn’t expect in-person services to resume at Calvary Temple until provincial restrictions ease to allow at least 25 per cent capacity.
Calvary Temple has a long history of broadcasting its Sunday services, and Martin said the pandemic has opened up further possibilities with livestreaming, while allowing people without computers or access to the internet to participate.
"We have a lot more understanding of how to touch people when we’re not in the building," said the minister, experienced at recording short television and radio commercials.
"If you are sitting on the phone and that’s all you got, just dial up 204-808-3080."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.