Religious groups on campus find new ways to pray and connect amid rising COVID-19 cases

Provincial flip-flopping on religious gatherings has forced religious campus groups to take their worship online.

On March 25, the province loosened restrictions on worship services to allow services with up to 50 people. But with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the province backtracked on March 29 and banned all indoor worship again.

Diane Lewis, campus director of University Christian Ministries, said the sudden move back online wasn’t surprising to her.

“My church was preparing for the Easter Sunday service, but since it was revoked we had to move everything quickly back online. It’s upsetting of course because there was a glimmer of hope to be able to gather in-person again … but at this point we are also used to it,” Lewis said.

“I actually haven’t stepped into a church for a year. It’s been a long time,” she added, laughing.

Lewis is also a part of the Association of Christian Clubs at UBC. She said various Christian Clubs have met online for the service keeping in mind the recent restrictions.

“A lot of the community has happened online. So we really tried our best to follow the rules and care for our neighbours,” said Lewis.

Muslim students have faced their own challenges — they’ve struggled to find places to pray on campus during the pandemic.

“Last year … we had a prayer space here on campus just across from the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. This year everything has changed. We don’t have any prayer space,” said Aida Sanjush, the vice president of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA).

“UBC is also helping us get a prayer space in Westbrook that isn’t ready yet … [but] students are really stressed. They really want to connect and meditate,” Sanjush said.

With Ramadan coming up, Sanjush said the MSA has again adjusted its plans for the holy month.

For Ramadan last year, the MSA organized packaged meals and urged the students to leave the area as soon as possible after the distribution of the food. Sanjush said the MSA will again safely distribute the food and they hope to open Friday prayers in a field.

“Last year there was no prayer, everybody had to get the food and go. But this year we want to accommodate the prayer for students, but of course, make sure that they are following the COVID guidelines because it is really important for them to be safe with everything going on,” said Sanjush.