Grassroots Campaign to Expand Worship Services in British Columbia
Between March 16th and November 19th, 2020, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry restricted in-person worship services to 50 people in British Columbia in an effort to staunch the spread of COVID-19. On November 19th, she completely prohibited in-person worship services, a situation that still endures to this day. Christians have a complicated response to these restrictions. God has commanded us to submit to our civil authorities, to gather to worship Him regularly, and to love our neighbour, yet it is difficult to fulfill all three callings in our current situation.
Many calls have gone out to Provincial Health Officer Henry, Premier Horgan, and Health Minister Dix already, yet let us be like the persistent widow in Luke 18, continually calling upon God and our provincial leaders to allow us to gather for worship safely again soon. Below, we have outlined different messages and mediums that you can use to contact your local and provincial leaders on this topic. Our goal is that the province again allows small groups of believers (e.g. 50 people again) to gather for worship or that churches may operate at a percentage of their building capacity for worship services (e.g. 30% of capacity). We believe that his request enables Christians to continue to faithfully submit to our civil authorities, to gather to worship Him regularly, and to love our neighbour.
A Concerning Background
In the opening months of the pandemic, Christians in British Columbia were thankful that our provincial government demonstrated a restrained response to COVID-19. Our provincial leaders had consciously refrained from mandating masks or forbidding singing. The province clarified that one church building can host multiple groups of 50 people in a worship service, provided that the groups do not mix. Many churches in the Fraser Valley got creative to follow this rule, using multiple entry/exit points, installing physical separators like plexiglass in their sanctuaries or establishing seating rules that enable multiple groups to assemble for worship services. For months, British Columbia granted Christians the greatest freedom to attend church services; 50 people could attend a worship service, compared to 10 in Alberta and a mere 5 in Ontario.
But British Columbia slipped from its national leadership on preserving our freedom to worship during the late spring and early summer. On June 8th, the Ontario government announced that worship services could resume at 30% capacity while following social distancing protocols. The next day, Alberta announced that, as long as they adhered to social distancing protocols, an unlimited number of people could attend a worship service. But British Columbia has stubbornly maintained the prohibition of no more than 50 people in a worship service.
In response, two Fraser Valley pastors (Reverend Rob Schouten and Pastor Paul Dirks) submitted an open letter signed by 144 churches to our provincial leaders, humbly but urgently requesting that British Columbia allow attendance at worship services up to a percentage of a building’s capacity (e.g. 50% capacity).
After waiting for over a month, the pastors received essentially a form response to their request: no more than 50 people may gather for a worship service. The response, and a subsequent call with our provincial leaders at the end of July, simply reiterated the guidelines that churches should follow with 50 people gathered for worship. The government appeared determined to maintain this policy indefinitely.
Until November 19. On that day, the province declared that no gatherings and events – with very minor expectations – would not be allowed for the following two and a half weeks. That order was extended on December 7th and again on January 7th. These regulations on gatherings and events, including in-person worship service, continue despite the fact that the vast majority of for-profit businesses are allowed to operate, provided they have a COVID-19 safety plan in place, that British Columbians have a constitutional right to freedom of religion and assembly, that churches are not the epicentre of new community outbreaks, and that churches are essential services.
The Campaign Strategy
In response to the ongoing prohibition on in-person worship services and in acknowledgment of our desire to join together in worship of God, here are some different messages and different mediums that you can use to express the importance of corporate worship for believers.
- Send an EasyMail about restrictions of worship service size being infringements on our constitutional freedoms
- Post pictures on social media to demonstrate how worship services are being unfairly regulated compared to other business activities (e.g. airline flights or restaurants)
- Call your MLA to talk through how churches have not been the cause of major outbreaks and can contract trace very effectively even if an outbreak occurred there
- Meet with your MLA and describe how worship services are essential services