The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star file)

The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star file)

Make church an essential service: Vernon council

With mental health crises on the rise, politician says places of worship need to reopen to support those struggling

Akbal Mund has lost more friends in the last few months to suicide than any other cause, including COVID-19.

The subject of declining mental health was raised by the Vernon city councillor in response to the need for opening supportive services such as church.

“People need a place to go when they are alone,” Coun. Mund said at the Monday, Jan. 11 council meeting.

The discussion was sparked by a request from Coun. Scott Anderson to write a letter to the provincial government asking that church be deemed an essential service. His motion was passed, but not without opposition.

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

“I think this is nuts,” said Coun. Brian Quiring, who has attended church all his life. “You think you’re going to be able to control social distancing in a church? Not a chance. You’re meeting with people you haven’t seen in a long time and you will not social distance. People are going to have their kids there, it’s going to be mayhem.”

While he agrees that church is an essential service, he does not agree that now is the time to reopen them.

“It flies in the face of what the provincial health officer is saying,” Quiring said. “You would put a high-risk group of our population in an even greater risk.”

Scared of what could potentially happen, Quiring said it is not worth the risk.

Mayor Victor Cumming echoed Quiring and cautioned the rapid spread that could potentially happen, putting British Columbia in a position similar to that of Quebec, with curfews now in place, or Ontario, where they’re not opening schools.

“It doesn’t happen in ones and twos, it goes viral super fast,” Cumming said, reminding his colleagues that B.C. is currently having all those at greatest risk vaccinated, so to hold the course while that work is being done is critical.

“The idea that we can somehow manage this successfully has not proven out.”

With a grandfather, father, brother in law and two uncles who were all ministers, Cumming understands the value, importance and significance of church. But after seeing a friend of his and his wife get very ill from COVID-19 in December, he doesn’t want to see the good work being done come undone.

“It comes apart fast and it comes apart exponentially,” Cumming said.

The request was brought forward to Coun. Anderson by a representative of the Canadian Reform Church of Vernon.

“All they are asking for is to be designated as essential services, like pubs and restaurants and cannabis stores and big box stores and airplanes and small junk removal companies,” Anderson said.

He wants to see worship leaders given the same trust that they will follow public health orders, and ensure their members do too, just as well as pub owners do.

Coun. Kelly Fehr agrees.

“It’s outrageous that I can go to a pub or Costco but I can’t go to a place for mental health or spiritual needs,” Fehr said.

With the Sikh Temple doors being closed, Coun. Dalvir Nahal cited a family struggle.

“I know that my mom is having a hard time because that’s where she found solace,” Nahal said. “A lot of people have nowhere to go.”

Coun. Kari Gares thinks Vernon’s request to the province will fall on deaf ears, but she too agrees that church is essential to mental health now more than ever.

“There is a lot of people out there that are struggling. Church was their haven, their safe space, the place they went to feel whole,” Gares said. “How many people out there right now are not feeling whole because COVID is taking a piece of them.”

Even if churches were granted the ability to reopen, Mund points to those most at risk who are concerned about the virus could continue to enjoy virtual services.

“Those people who are scared to go won’t go. You’re not going to have a full congregation off the bat,” Mund said.

Some Vernon faith leaders, however, stand with the health orders closing in-person congregations.

A joint letter of support, penned by 38 church leaders across the province was sent to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix Jan. 5, expressing their disappointment with religious leaders of those few establishments who, despite the orders, continue to host in-person services.

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.

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.”

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.”

READ MORE: RCMP pay another visit to Kelowna church already fined for defying public health orders


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusReligion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vernon Morning Star columnist Sam McNair gives an inside look to One Yoga in Vernon. (Sam McNair - Contributed)
Small Business Spotlight: One Yoga Vernon

It’s 2021 and everyone is looking forward to a new year full… Continue reading

A COVID-19 outbreak at Vernon’s Heritage Square long-term care home has now claimed eight lives as of Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID-19 claims another life at Vernon’s Heritage Square

Eight residents of the assisted living facility have died due to the virus to date

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Administrative headquarters for the Regional District of Central Okanagan in Kelowna. (File photo)
Tempers fly over a pricey picnic shelter in the North Westside

Lack of detail on $121,000 shelter expenditure further incites self-governance wishes

(Pixabay photo)
Black Press Weekly Roundup: Top headlines of the week

In case you missed it, here’s what made waves throughout the week

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Most Read