London, Ont. residents celebrate religious holidays for the first time without restrictions

This weekend many Londoners have come together to celebrate their religious holidays, including Easter, Ramadan, and Passover.

Many people attended services in person for the first time in two years, as COVID-19 restrictions have lifted in the province.

People in the Muslim community are marking the month of Ramadan, which began on April 2 and ends on May 2. While people in the Jewish community are celebrating Passover.

Reverend Kevin George of St. Aidan’s Anglican church in London was happy to welcome back parishioners for this Easter Sunday’s services.

Since 2019 their church, like many others have had to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions including capacity limits, masking and at many times, worshipping from a distance.

While restrictions are no longer being enforced, their church is still asking that people wear masks while inside.

“The people who were here were just overwhelmed with joy,” said Rev. Kevin George.

“It’s the first time we’ve been able to do this in a while and so the sense of anticipation for being back together for this most holy time of year was really an incredible gift.”

Jim Smyth is one of dozens of parishioners who attended Sunday’s service. He told CTV News he has been coming to St. Aidan’s for the past 37 years.

“For our particular family its ben a bit of a transition from being at home from the online service to coming back occasionally,” said Smyth.

“We’re feeling pretty good. We’re looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces today.”

Since the pandemic has forced many to practice their faith virtually, community members are working to rebuild what was once normal for their church. St. Aidan’s gives the option for people to watch their services online through their website.  

“People are feeling excited and exhilarated by the fact that we can be all together,” said Maureen Campbell, a long-time parishioner.

Since starting seminary, Jordan Sandrack has been with the church only throughout the pandemic.

“This is the first time that the churches have been open during Easter since I’ve started. It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate the resurrection and community with other people,” Sandrack said.

The impact of the pandemic has forced many to adjust to new ways of practicing their faith.

Now, with no COVID-19 restrictions in place in Ontario, many of those celebrating Easter at St. Aidan’s said they are happy to in the company of others again.

“It’s a transition time that we’re in, sort of moving to being at home to being here, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” said Susan Warner.

“We’re very pleased to be back,” said Aarji Anwer, the director of religious affairs at the London Muslim mosque.

Anwer told CTV News they are now back to doing pre-COVID activities.

“This includes prayer services at the mosque every night,” he said. “A collection of food items to distribute to our local food banks and other philanthropic drives such as supporting the homeless shelters in the city.”

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