Update Posted: June 26, 2020

St. Agnes Parish Task Force on Re-Opening

Introduction and Background



Worship services have been suspended for almost four months by a directive from the Bishop of Thunder Bay due to the COVID-19 virus.   In Northwestern Ontario, the virus is now sufficiently contained, traceable, and manageable to allow gathering restrictions to be eased. Physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet), however, remains in effect.  

On June 19, 2020, the Province of Ontario announced that churches may open at 30% of their capacity.  The Bishop of Thunder Bay directed that churches may open on the weekend of June 27 – 28, providing they follow guidelines set out by the Bishop based on the WorshipSafe Guide developed by the Assembly of Bishops of Ontario.


Task Force Purpose

The purpose of the St. Agnes Task Force on Re-Opening is to create a plan that:

  • offers a safe environment in which to worship, one that protects each worshipper from contracting the virus during mass as well as when entering and exiting the church;
  • identifies an individual’s responsibility to self-protect and respect the rules governing protection of others when attending worship services; and
  • optimizes the worship experience

The St. Agnes plan incorporates directives from the Bishop. It also meets standards set by the Government of Ontario, Thunder Bay Medical Officer of Health, and City of Thunder Bay,

The Task Force operates within the Worship Stream of the Crisis Response Steering Committee.


Task Force Members

Fr. James appointed the following parishioners to the Task Force:

Fr. James  Liturgical Guide & Diocesan Liaison

Andrea North Chair and Eucharistic Ministers

Susan Raynak Co-Chair and Signage

Karl Schulzki Cleaning, Entering & Exiting, and Collections

Al Tennant Ushers, Entering & Exiting, and Seating

Joyce Ilkka Greeters

Cindy Jarvela Liaison, Steering Committee

Beatrice Metzler Liaison, Steering Committee


Due Diligence

Those responsible for the plan have followed due diligence to strive for a plan that achieves its purpose with minimal risk.  The following steps were taken:

  • On May 26, 2020 the Divine Renovation Network invited Fr. James Panikulam, Cindy Jarvela and Beatrice Metzler to a webinar entitled “Re-Entering our Church Doors”. The webinar included priests who had already re-opened their doors to parishioners.  This provided a significant insight into the reality of re-opening.
  • Between May 20 and May 30, Cindy Jarvela and Carolyn Wiznuk explored best practice guidelines and specific standards for places of worship that plan to re-open.
  • On May 27, Cindy Jarvela distributed a 5-page draft transition plan to the Liturgy Committee and Steering Committee. 
  • The Liturgy Committee and Crisis Response Steering Committee held a joint meeting on June 2.  Together they added and/or changed items in the draft transition plan that covered 10 areas of re-opening guidelines.  These individuals are subject specialists on liturgy.
  • Bishop Colli provided a 16-page Diocesan document on re-opening on June 10th and a subsequent 17-page document on June 22nd. Members of the Crisis Response Steering Committee and the Task Force reviewed these document to ensure the plan followed his guidelines. Members also reviewed a 57-page document produced by the Assembly of Bishops of Ontario for a more complete understanding of elements supporting the Bishop’s plan.
  • The Task Force itself held two meetings – June 11 and June 18. A draft plan evolved in compliance with the Bishop’s directives.  The plan identifies persons accountable for 8 specific parts of the plan, and a step by step process for each part.
  • To help ensure that all aspects of a safe and meaningful worship experience are in place, a 3-hour orientation and training session is scheduled for Saturday June 27 for those accountable; a detailed list of responsibilities and actions for every role is made available prior to re-opening of the church
  • Throughout the process, parishioners were informed of the progress and rationale in the re-opening plan.  The supporting communications efforts included the Parish Newsletter, website, Facebook, and other social media platforms. 
  • A personal letter from Fr. James, together with guidelines on re-opening, was mailed to each of our 800 member families on June 18.
  • Measurement of success, evaluation, and adjustments needed are planned for the week of June 29-July 3, in preparation for worship services on the next weekend.


Process Review

The Crisis Response Steering Committee and Parish Council members validated the Re-Opening Plan. Additional recommendations from both groups were forwarded to the Task Force and the Plan was finalized.

The Senior Leadership Team and Fr. James Panikulam, approved the Plan on June 26, 2020.


Category: Cleaning, Disinfecting and Sanitizing Procedures

  • All staff engaged in cleaning will wear a mask and disposable gloves
  • Masks are to be disposed of when dirty or not later than the end of the day
  • Gloves will be changed at the end of a task or after cleaning a washroom and hands are washed (or rinsed with hand sanitizer) after removal of gloves
  • Pew fronts and tops and sides of pew benches that are used will be wiped with a disinfectant cleaner after each weekday mass and between each weekend mass
  • The surface of the ambo will be wiped after each mass as well as Microphones and keyboard/mouse used by the music ministry
  • All surfaces (floors, seating, kneelers) will be cleaned with a disinfectant cleaner at least once a week 
  • Washrooms will be restricted to use when absolutely necessary only
  • Only one stall in each washroom will be available for use and will be cleaned between masses and more often as required
  • Hand-washing signs are posted in the washroom
  • Signage indicating occupancy limit is posted outside washroom
  • A wall-mounted hand sanitizing unit is available in the hallway outside the washrooms
  • Two wall-mounted hand sanitizing units are installed in the entrance of the church (these units are checked prior to each mass to ensure they are filled and operating properly)
  • Two tables with bottles of hand sanitizers are set up in the foyer; a Greeter will be at each table to provide direction and answer questions
  • A bottle of hand sanitizer as well as disinfectant wipes will be available in the back pews of the church
  • Hand sanitizer is also available in the Sacristy and at the Altar
  • A waste basket is located near the entrance/exit of church


Category: Signage

  • Large sized Notices (18” x 24”) have been placed at the entrance of the church with a general directive asking people to refrain from entering if they are feeling sick or have a fever, cough, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue and muscle aching, chills
  • Signage has been placed at both Greeter’s tables directing people to use the hand sanitizer and to avoid touching their face or other individuals
  • Signage is posted that includes information for parishioners to ensure physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) is maintained at all times and to follow the guidance of the Greeters and Ushers 
  • Signage is placed outside washrooms indicating only one individual (or one family) is to be in the washroom at one time
  • Signage has been posted on the door of the Children’s Chapel indicating it is temporarily closed
  • Information and reminders for parishioners will be posted on the screen prior to and towards the end of mass


Category: Entering and Exiting

  • The centre door of the church is cordoned off so that just the two side doors are available for entry and exiting
  • The side entry doors will be propped open to avoid contact with handles
  • While not mandatory, parishioners are strongly encouraged to wear a mask/face covering, particularly on entering and exiting the church
  • Greeters and Ushers will wear a mask 
  • Greeters will be stationed at 2 separate tables in the foyer – one table will be by the Mary Room and the other at the opposite wall
  • Greeters will direct people to use hand sanitizer, provide instructions and answer questions as well as count numbers entering to avoid over-capacity
  • Tape has been applied on the floors at the church entrance, in the foyer and in the aisles of the church, to designate spacing of 2 metre (6 foot) increments and also indicate the direction of movement
  • The sidewalk outside the church has been marked to indicate physical distancing requirements as well
  • Two ushers will be present at each Mass 
  • Parishioners will be escorted to appropriate seating by the Ushers
  • Fr. James will make an announcement prior to the end of each mass asking parishioners to remain in their seats until escorted out by the ushers to ensure an orderly exit 


Category: Seating

  • Pews have been measured and rows have been roped off and will be kept empty to allow sufficient distancing between rows 
  • Parishioners will also be seated at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart; (People living in the same household can sit together)
  • Ushers will escort parishioners to appropriate pew and will seat people further into the pew to keep the centre aisles clear
  • Ushers will seat people beginning at the front of the church (unless specifically requested otherwise)
  • Families will be seated at the outside of the pews
  • An area at the front left side of the church has been designated for those who attend with a personal mobility device
  • The centre section of the second last row will be designated for those who wish Fr. James to bring the Eucharist to them
  • The outside section of the back row will be designated for those who do not wish to receive Communion
  • Walkers will be stowed at the back of the church along the back wall
  • The church allows for seating for 36 individuals; capacity increases if parishioners come as couples or families 
  • The church hall will be available for overflow; tape has been installed on the floor to designate spacing of 2 metre (6 foot) increments and to indicate the direction of movement
  • Parishioners in the church hall will be seated at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart


Category: Liturgy

  • The Entrance Procession will take place directly from the sacristy
  • There will only be one Lector present at each Mass
  • The Lector will be seated at the front on the left side close to the ambo
  • Announcements and Scripture Readings will all be done from the ambo
  • The Lectionary will remain on the ambo so it will not be necessary for the Lector to enter the sacristy
  • The Greeting of Peace is maintained; a simple bow of the head towards one’s neighbour is offered as a sign of peace (no hand shaking is permitted)
  • After the priest has received Holy Communion, he will hold up the host for the congregation to see and will say “The Body of Christ”; the congregation will respond with “Amen”; during the distribution of Holy Communion, nothing is said
  • Ushers will assist people in approaching for Holy Communion ensuring physical distancing is maintained 
  • There will only be one Eucharistic Minister present at each Mass in addition to the Priest 
  • Eucharistic Ministers will wear a mask when distributing Holy Communion
  • Fr. James will distribute Holy Communion to parishioners in the centre aisle
  • The Eucharistic Minister will distribute Holy Communion to parishioners in the two outside sections (first one side and then the other)
    • Communion is received only in the hand at this time
  • The Priest or Eucharistic Minister will carefully place the Sacred Host in the recipient’s hand without touching the person; nothing is said
  • There will only be one Cantor and a pianist/organist at each Mass
  • The Cantor will be behind plexiglass to ensure physical distancing and safety of others during singing
  • There will be no congregational singing
  • The screen at the front of the church will be used to provide information and reminders to parishioners 


Other General Information

  • Holy water fonts have been removed
  • Entrance to the sacristy will be limited to those who are required to prepare for the liturgy and limited to only one person at a time
  • Hymn books and other paper items have been removed from pews and from the foyer
  • Pyxes and directions will be stored in the sacristy and are also available at the altar; pyxes will be available on request and at the discretion of Fr. James
  • Live Streaming will continue at the 11 am Mass


Category: Collections

  • Secured containers for parishioner’s offerings for Mass will be available behind the last pews in each of the centre aisles
  • Collection containers will be monitored by the Ushers to ensure security
  • Collection containers will be on wheels so they can be easily moved into the sacristy for safe depositing.



Update Posted: June 23rd, 2020

Guidelines for Returning to Church 

As we prepare to re-open our church, please be aware of the following guidelines. We recognize that they may be awkward or uncomfortable and contrary to our culture of hospitality and community; however, they are important to fostering a safe environment for everyone.  We thank you in advance for your patience.


Before coming to church:

  • Please remain at home if you have any of these symptoms – fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscles aches, loss of taste or smell, undue fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, runny nose, sore throat, chills involving shakes


Arriving at church:

  • Please maintain physical distancing at all times – 2 metres (6 feet) from others – in the parking lot, church entrance and in church itself
  • While not mandatory, use of a mask or face covering upon entry into the church is strongly encouraged
  • The Greeters will direct you to the Hand sanitizers that will be available for use in the foyer and within the church itself; please sanitize your hands upon entry and regularly whenever possible
  • Pews and aisles will be marked to note physical distancing requirements 
  • Follow direction of Ushers for seating; they will escort you to an appropriate pew; families living in the same household may sit together
  • Pews will be emptied of hymn books and other paper items to prevent handling of shared items
  • Holy Water fonts will be empty and not in use at this time


Celebration of the Eucharist:

  • Please listen carefully to announcements before the start of Mass and follow directions as advised
  • Please do not enter the sacristy unless you are assisting during Mass
  • There will only be one Lector during this period of time
  • Other than a cantor and musical accompanist, there will be no singing during Mass by the congregation 
  • There will be no offertory procession or collection; please leave your donation in the designated containers located at the back of the church upon entry/departure
  • We ask that people do not hold hands or shake hands during any portion of the celebration of the Eucharist.  At the Sign of Peace, a nod or bow to others is appropriate
  • The Ushers will provide direction to people for communion flow ensuring physical distancing at all times
  • During this period of time, parishioners are asked to receive Holy Communion in the hand by placing one on top of the other, allowing the Priest or Eucharistic Minister to safely place the Body of Christ in one’s hand without contact
  • There will be no dialogue when receiving Communion.  Instead, prior to serving the Eucharist, the priest will offer “The Body of Christ” to the congregation as a whole, and they will respond in unison “Amen”.
  • Follow direction of the ushers for dismissal and departure
  • Following Mass, please depart the church so that cleaning can be completed between masses.  While it is our nature to congregate and socialize in the foyer or parking lot, we ask that you not do so at this time.  Please maintain physical distancing



  • If you suddenly feel ill, start coughing or sneezing, please leave the church for the health and safety of others gathered
  • Please use washrooms in emergency or urgent situations only.  One person (or one family) is permitted in the washroom at any given time.  Please respect physical distancing outside the washroom
  • A pyx and instructions for bringing communion to others is available from the parish office

Thank you for your patience and cooperation!



Previous Update Posted: June 19th, 2020


St. Agnes Parish to Resume Regular Worship Services June 27 -28

Bishop Fred Colli, Diocese of Thunder Bay, has given permission for diocesan churches to re-open the weekend of June 27 – 28. Churches must be in a state of readiness that complies with the WorshipSafe Guide issued by the Assembly of Bishops of Ontario.

Weekend Services beginning June 27 – 28:
Saturday, June 27: 5:00 p.m.
Sunday June 28: 9:00 a.m.
11: a.m. – also live streamed
7:00 pm.

Weekday Services beginning June 29:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 12:10 p.m.
Wednesdays Adoration of Blessed Sacrament 7:00 p.m.

The St. Agnes Task Force on Re-Opening is working on all logistics to ensure you have a safe and healthy worship environment at all masses. Details will be provided on this site.





© 2015 St. Agnes Parish


St. Agnes Parish
1019 Brown Street Thunder Bay, ON
P7E 2L7

P | 807 475.7489
Office Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 9:00 am until 4:00 pm   F | 807 577.8820E | st.agnes@shaw.ca

photos@stagnesrc.ca (photo submissions for website)