WINNIPEG -- The new public health order which took effect Sep.28 in the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region excludes places of worship, but some religious groups are continuing to err on the side of caution.

The restricted (orange) level of Manitoba’s Pandemic Response Plan means masks are now mandatory in indoor public places and requires indoor or outdoor gatherings to be limited to 10 people.

Faith-based gatherings were allowed to increase in size this summer.

In-person prayers and worshipping are continuing under the orange rules at some places, but others are still asking people to stay home, including Shaarey Zedek Synagogue where the sanctuary and chapel mainly sit empty.

With the exception of some small bar and bat mitzvahs, rabbis, and sometimes a small group of choir members for live-streamed services executive director Ian Staniloff said it’s going to stay that way until further notice.

It’s a voluntary decision.

“I would like to think that we’re going to be able to get back together when people feel safe,” said Staniloff. “And whether that’s with a vaccine or whether a huge reduction in numbers we don’t know but we’ll be careful.”

For weddings or funerals held in a place of worship, the public health order states the gathering size of 10 still applies but for religious services attendance only has to be capped at 30 per cent of normal capacity or 500 people, whatever’s lower.

“We thought the 10-person limit also applied but it seems that doesn’t apply to a house of worship, yet,” said Idris Elbakri, board chairperson of the Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA). “We’re still 30 per cent capacity and so we’re still operating with that new, now old normal.”

The MIA limits the number of people coming to the Grand Mosque for Friday prayers with an online ticketing system.

Pre-COVID, it could normally accommodate more than 1,000 worshippers during one service but not anymore – only people who get a ticket can attend in person.

“We release those spots every Thursday morning and within 10, 15 minutes they’re all gone,” said Elbakri. “So there’s a lot of demand."

“These are tough times. I think spirituality and faith play an important role in kind of helping us get through this.”

Masks are also required and people have to bring their own prayer mats. Those who don’t get a ticket can take part remotely.

“One of the sad things is we haven’t allowed children back in so the mosque feels a lot older than it did. We used to have a lot of kids running around here and that’s something I hope we can get back to sometime soon.”

Crescent Fort Rouge United Church only restarted its post-lockdown, public worship services Sep. 13 – just weeks before the new restrictions kicked in. Reverend Marc Whitehead said the congregation is still welcome in the church under the new restrictions but expects the crowd to be smaller.

“Many people are choosing to stay at home and we’re encouraging people to join us virtually through live-streaming, Zoom,” said Whitehead, noting the virtual congregation outnumbers those attending in-person.

Volunteers continue to worship regularly at the Hindu Temple on Ellice Ave. but it’s limiting public worshipping to Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays.

Hindu Society of Manitoba vice-president Dinesh Sharma said pre-COVID people would typically attend twice a day.

“Due to the COVID situation we are just using the volunteers to come and do the worshipping and for the public, we’re open for three days only,” said Sharma.

The current public health order states pow wows and other Indigenous cultural events may go ahead as long as the number of people attending doesn’t exceed 30 per cent of normal capacity or 500 people at the venue where they’re being held.