St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and all others in the province have been closed to services by a public health order. (Google)

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and all others in the province have been closed to services by a public health order. (Google)

Churchgoers question closure in latest health orders

Pitt Meadows pastor notes soccer club can still rent church gymnasium

B.C. religious leaders, from pastors in Pitt Meadows to the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Vancouver are questioning the government’s latest COVID-19 orders.

They were ordered by the province to close churches to worshipers on Sunday, and until Dec. 7. Meanwhile, restaurants, pubs and gymnasiums remain open, noted Pitt Meadows City Coun. Anena Simpson.

Simpson is a pastor who is not pastoring full-time. She attends as a member of the congregation at a Port Coquitlam Church with seating capacity for 800, which had been limiting congregations to no more than 50 in accordance with public health orders.

There was plenty of space for everyone to be socially distanced, she said. Those attending would register in advance, in case there needed to be contact tracing.

Now, even these small gatherings are no longer allowed, and people in the congregation are complaining, as they are forced to hold only online services.

Simpson said church is a source of strength and peace for many people during the pandemic, where they can pause and centre themselves.

“It’s more safe than a lot of activities that are still allowed,” she said. “It’s safer than going to Costco.”

Simpson noted a soccer club is still able to rent the gymnasium inside the church.

“There’s inequity there.”

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Marc Dalton said he is concerned about increased incidents of addiction, depression, anxiety and declining mental health as the pandemic wears on society.

“It has been really challenging for some people,” he said.

For some people, church fills “that need for connections,” he said. “We’re social beings.”

He is hearing from people who question the lack of services, but added “Dr. Bonnie Henry has done a terrific job.”

“Inequity” is the same sentiment as Archbishop J. Michael Miller of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

“The reason why gathering for worship in limited numbers where all safety precautions are met is not allowed, while bars and restaurants and gyms can remain open with measures that are no more safe, is simply baffling,” he said on Sunday.

“That is why the new provincial health order is hard to understand, and why I hope that a further explanation from the provincial government – now that there has been time for further reflection – will be forthcoming.”

Miller said placing any limits on religious freedoms is “a very serious matter” given this freedom is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He noted that the churches have followed all restrictions. Pews are marked for social distancing. Through 78 churches there has not been a COVID-19 outbreak.

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Jonathan Neufeld, lead pastor at Ridge Church, said they have taken their worship services online. It has one of the larger congregations in Maple Ridge, with some 400-plus attending each Sunday.

“We did not have services this weekend, nor for the foreseeable future, until she lifts that order,” he said.

He did not want to second guess health officials, including the provincial health officer, and her prescription for flattening the curve.

“We will honour Dr. Bonnie Henry and her wisdom in this,” said Neufeld.

In the meantime, he preaches into a camera rather than a crowded church. And he hopes the pandemic is controlled quickly – at least to the extent that churches be allowed to hold in-person services in time for Christmas.

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