This story was corrected to clarify churches were not closed by the government earlier in the year.

The B.C. government has closed churches to public worship, just as local parishes reported a nearly 80 per cent drop in weekly Mass attendance and a significant strain on their finances.

At a press conference Nov. 19, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry called for the suspension of all in-person religious gatherings and worship services effective immediately until Dec. 7.

In a statement released immediately after the announcement, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the archdiocese remains committed to doing its part to “help stem the tide of the pandemic” by following the orders.

“I am saddened that the celebration of Mass with a congregation, a comfort and strength to so many, has to be suspended at this time,” he said.

“Most of our parishes are already livestreaming Mass, and I encourage the faithful to participate in this way.”

He added churches will remain open for private prayer and individual confession. Funerals, weddings, and baptisms can be celebrated too, according to government orders, as long as they include no more than 10 participants (including the officiant) and do not involve a reception.

“If we act with determination now to decrease the spread of the virus, we hope that we will be able to celebrate Christmas joyfully and with greater participation,” Archbishop Miller said.

All this comes just as The B.C. Catholic released a study of the pandemic’s effects on sacraments and parish finances. The archbishop’s office has estimated an average of 17,700 people a week were attending Mass at local parishes on weekends in October 2020, which is a nearly 80 per cent drop from the number of Catholics at Sunday Masses at the same time last year.

The B.C. Catholic survey conducted Nov. 6-13 found that of 68 parishes responding, 12 had cut staff positions and 13 had to shorten their office hours due to the pandemic.

Sunday offerings are also down in 2020. Archdiocesan finance director Sean O’Brien is forecasting a 20-25 per cent decrease in weekly giving by the end of the year, and an even sharper decline in special collections.

Project Advance is also expecting a 20-25 per cent drop in donations. Meanwhile, some parishes are struggling with other losses of revenue in the form of missed rental income or an inability to host fundraising events.

Schools, restaurants, and some indoor exercise facilities remain open under the latest health orders. Henry said masks are now mandatory in indoor public spaces across B.C.