Trinity St. Paul's United in Toronto. (Google Maps)

Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

I went back to church. It was joyful — and strange.

The changes to worship due to COVID-19 made the usually worn-in, ritualistic experience feel stiff at times

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I walked through the front doors of church for the first time in six months on Sunday and was so glad to see some of my fellow congregants that I came a bit too close to one of the greeters.

Last Sunday, my congregation, Trinity St. Paul’s United in Toronto, held its first in-person service since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in March. It is one of a number of churches across Canada reopening their buildings to congregants. But when my partner and I learned about the church’s plans, we hesitated. We’d be walking into an enclosed space along with several vulnerable seniors. 

But Trinity St. Paul’s was cautious. We had to pick our seats ahead of time like we were seeing an opera, and only about a third were available to maintain adequate distance. Masks were required, and our minister implored us at the start of the service not to sing along with the hymns. Soloists on the chancel sang them instead.

Also, the church was far from full. I chose spots on the balcony, and we were at least a pew’s length away from everyone else. 

And the service, in many ways, felt much the same. Familiar liturgy, call-and-response prayers and a thoughtful, relevant sermon helped, as did a lovely baptism in which the baby boy stuck his hands in the baptismal font and clapped along with the congregation, gleeful at being the focus of attention. 


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But the many changes to worship at times made the worn-in, intuitive ritual of church feel stiff and strange. Even though one of the soloists gave us hand gestures to use instead of singing, I often started humming or quietly following along at the start of a piece before I realized what I was doing. 

And while necessary, the distance between us and everyone else on the balcony was awkward. I waved to a friend at the far end of our row, unsure whether she saw us and hesitant to walk over. I settled for some distanced conversation after the service. 

I led a congregational prayer near the end of worship and needed to take off my mask to speak, so I didn’t use the microphone at the lectern, aware that my already-booming voice was probably enough. But my partner told me afterwards that it was still hard to hear me at times up in the balcony. Afterwards, I felt guilty — would the microphone have been safer? Did I catapult whatever virus I may have across the sanctuary?

But I still loved being back inside a space that has nourished me so much over the years, even if the lack of participation sometimes made it feel like watching a performance. And as COVID-19 case numbers begin to rise again in Ontario and across Canada, I’m glad I went. I may not be able to for much longer. 

Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital editor.


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  • says:

    We too are back in the building for worship and indeed it is strange but good.