Canada faithful turn to 'God Pod' as church services resume

Ottawa (AFP) –


As in-person religious services start resuming in Canada after a pandemic lockdown forced many churches to close, one Ottawa parish is offering its congregation a unique way to connect with their faith -- in a "God Pod."

The four-by-six-foot glass compartment with a partition between two sides and an air filtration system to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, was unveiled to the public this week at the Saint John Lutheran Church in Ottawa's New Edinburgh neighbourhood.

Pastor Reverend Joel Crouse, who gave the donated pod its nickname, said it has allowed parishioners to connect safely in these difficult times.

"During this pandemic, many people have felt isolated and lonely. We've missed simply being together, to sit and listen, we're always wondering if it's safe," he told AFP.

"The God Pod resolves all of the logistical issues -- sitting too close, or having to wear a mask," he said.

"One parishioner said it was great just to be able to laugh out loud (in the pod) without worrying about spreading the coronavirus."

A recent uptick in the number of new Covid-19 cases in Ontario province -- which, along with Quebec, account for the most coronavirus deaths in this country -- has been blamed in part on religious gatherings, including a Toronto wedding that led to a cluster of new infections.

As of Thursday, 9,238 deaths across Canada have been linked to Covid-19, out of 140,539 confirmed cases.

- Pandemic hard on soul -

Most parishes are now limiting seating for church services.

Crouse said the "God Pod" is wiped down and disinfected after each use, in accordance with public health guidelines.

Its use is by appointment only. But all -- pious and non-believers alike -- are welcome to give it a try.

The prototype was designed and built by SnapCab, an Ontario company that makes enclosed office spaces. It is now ramping up production of the pods to sell.

The pod has been used for prayer, but also for casual meetings as well as grief and marriage counselling sessions.

A grandmother with terminal cancer used it to see her grandchild, and another woman availed herself of it to chat with her sister who is in a separate small group or "bubble" of people with whom each are allowed close contacts under government rules.

Isabelle Geraets-Rose told broadcaster CTV that her spirit suffered during the pandemic without regular contact with her congregation.

She tried the pod at Crouse's urging, telling CTV she quickly realized just "how much I missed seeing him and getting so much off my chest. The fact there was no mask and the glass was there; you really felt like you were free and safe."

The pastor said the pod also makes it easier for him to read non-verbal communications, including facial expressions, body posture, and intonation.

"Psychiatrists, social workers and pastors, we're all trained to read those cues from people," he said. "You can't do that through a mask or over the phone, and not always very well on Zoom."

"At a time of elevated stress, it's especially hard."