St. James Catholic Church in Vernon was empty on Christmas Eve Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020, in line with restrictions on religious gatherings amid COVID-19. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star file)

St. James Catholic Church in Vernon was empty on Christmas Eve Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020, in line with restrictions on religious gatherings amid COVID-19. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star file)

In-person worship should be deemed essential: Vernon city councillor

Council to consider penning letter to province supporting the declaration of essential worship with safety protocols in place

Churches shut doors to congregants mid-November on the heels of new provincial health orders banning gatherings, but some are fighting to prove places of worship are an essential service.

City of Vernon councillors will consider sending a letter to the province supporting the notion of reopening places of worship, deemed as an essential service, at the regular meeting Monday, Jan. 11.

The motion, put forward by Coun. Scott Anderson, says with proper safety protocols in place, including appropriate physical distancing and mandatory masks indoors, risks to congregants would be minimal.

Anderson uses the allowance of air travel, with passengers sitting in close proximity, and bustling big box stores with unmonitored aisle traffic as examples of riskier situations than attending church.

“Public transit is ongoing, yet congregational worship is not allowed, even with the same restrictions required elsewhere,” his rationale reads. “Requesting that the province remedy this situation is a step toward safe and secure worship.”

While some places of worship, such as Harvest Ministries International in Kelowna and three churches in Chilliwack, were fined for contravening the province-wide orders, many more abide by the orders and have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic by moving services online.

Furthermore, a joint letter of support, penned by 38 church leaders in B.C., was sent to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix Jan. 5 expressing the religious leaders’ disappointment with critical comments made from some faith leaders in the province condemning the ban on gatherings.

Brought to Vernon by Peace Lutheran pastor David Hunter, All Saints Anglican Church Rev. Canon Chris Harwood-Jones was happy to sign alongside Trinity United Church minister Rev. Robin Jacobson.

“It’s the nature of social media,” Harwood-Jones said, noting the letter was intended to create distance from the few faith leaders refusing to acknowledge or adhere to provincial health orders. “The most extreme positions get amplified.”

All Saints has not had in-person worship services since March and senior priest Harwood-Jones said the church had never taken the position that “in-person gatherings are ‘essential’ to Christian faith practice.”

“Indeed, because faith practice is essential but physical gathering is not,” he said Friday, Jan. 8.

Instead, All Saints has invested time and funding into tech to bring its worship services online and now people from as far as California, Quebec, Alberta and Ontario are tuning in.

“We’re not going to waste a good crisis,” Harwood-Jones said regarding plans to bring streaming services into a post-COVID reality. “We have to do it, so we might as well do it well and continue to do it after.”

Coun. Anderson’s notice of motion comes before council during Monday’s regular meeting which can be streamed online through the City of Vernon website starting at 1:30 p.m. Members of the public can view the recorded video the following day after 12 p.m.

READ MORE: ‘None of this gets in God’s way’: Vernon church

READ MORE: Mixed feelings among Vernon pastors as COVID-19 restrictions curb religious services


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