Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)

2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

While most church-goers across B.C. have foregone Sunday gatherings for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the most recent health order has banned indoor public gatherings altogether, a couple of Chilliwack churches are defiant.

Feeling unfairly targeted by the Nov. 19 public health order on indoor gatherings, and certain they have the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pastors at Chilliwack Free Reformed Church and Free Grace Baptist Church held services on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, two and three days after such gatherings were banned.

“The identification of what is and what is not an ‘essential service’ is certainly open for interpretation, but in short, we believe that churches are essential, and that Christians are commanded by God to attend public worship,” Pastor James Butler of Free Grace Baptist told The Chilliwack Progress in a statement Thursday (Nov. 26).

“Our convictions compel us to worship our God in the public gathering of his people and we must act in accordance with our conscience,” Pastor John Koopman said in a statement issued Friday (Nov. 27).

A concerned citizen, who asked not to be named for fear of backlash, shared photos of the full parking lot at Free Grace Baptist on Sunday. She pointed out that the vast majority of devout citizens have been practising faith from home, either on their own or with online sermons.

She said many people are even staying away from loved ones in order to protect all those in the community who could be impacted by the illness caused by COVID-19.

“As we take these measures to protect those working around us, we need to hold ourselves to the same standard, and face the same repercussions for blatant non-compliance.”

In a video of the Nov. 22 sermon posted online – that has since been edited – Pastor Butler started off by reading an email he received from Pastor Koopman about the service the day before. Butler said Koopman told him the RCMP attended in the parking lot and “the conversation went well.”

“I also asked him to leave our people alone and to give me a ticket if one was needed he said he was merely there for education and he would write a report for his staff sergeant,” Butler said Koopman wrote in his email.

“We told him that we we would be uncompromising and would continue to hold worship even if ticketed or imprisoned.”

In his statement to The Progress, Butler said the rationale to meet despite Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order of Nov. 19 was threefold: They believe Henry’s order exceeds the “authority under God;” “we cannot, in good conscience, prohibit the freedom of religion that the Charter protects”; and they believe in-person religious gather should be considered an essential service.

For his part, Koopman focused on the constitutional guarantee of “freedom of conscience and religion which includes peacefully gathering together to worship our God.”

He said further that if hockey games, restaurants, retail stores and schools are still open, churches should be allowed as well.

Asked about enforcement of public health orders, Fraser Health spokesperson Aletta Vanderheyden said they work with community partners, municipalities, WorkSafeBC and local police on education and enforcement of pandemic protocols. She said in cases of gatherings in large public areas like shopping malls, local Health Protection Services office can be called for complaints and they will work with operators on COVID-19 safety plan.

As for church gatherings?

“In this case, RCMP are responsible for enforcement.”

Asked about that enforcement, Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail said respecting prevention orders from health authorities are “not optional,” but that the RCMP start with education.

“Our focus continues to be on education rather than enforcement, however should circumstances dictate, police have the authority to carry out enforcement of the provincial public health orders, to help ensure compliance and therefore public safety,” Rail said.

While the vast majority of churches have moved to online sermons only, Koopman and Butler are not alone in their pushback to the bans on worship gatherings. In an op-ed sent to The Chilliwack Progress, an elder at a church in Yarrow encouraged civil disobedience in this regard.

“God has commanded His people to worship Him regularly and corporately,” Mike Schouten wrote. “This means the church has a task to do, and we intend to do it.”

OPINION: Authoritarian attempt to lockdown churches is unjustifiable and unconstitutional

Free Grace Baptist Nov 262020 by Paul Henderson on Scribd

Free Reformed Nov 262020 by Paul Henderson on Scribd


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
editor@theprogress.com

@TheProgress
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising five years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

A local letter writer is irate that tourists and people in the area of the resort community of Whistler are considered a higher vaccination priority than emergency personnel and other frontline workers. (Whistler Blackcomb photo)
LETTER: Langley man loses confidence in NDP after Whistler vaccination decision

Emergency personnel and other frontline workers should be vaccinated before Whistler tourists

Langley-Aldergrove MP Tako van Popta will be at a ceremony marking 70 years since Canadian soldiers fought at the Battle of Kapyong, held at the Gapyeong Memorial in Langley’s Derek Doubleday Arboretum on Friday, April 16. (Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Langley battle memorial marks 70 years since pivotal clash in Korean War

The Gapyeong Memorial will host a small, private ceremony this Friday

Prince George Cougars triumph over the Langley-based Vancouver Giants Monday night, by the score of 4-1. That follows a similar defeat on Saturday by the same team. (Cougar’s Allen Douglas/Special to Black Press Media)
Vancouver Giants fall in 4-1 loss to Prince George

WHL hockey team goes up against Victoria in Kamloops on Thursday

COVID-19 virus (file photo).
COVID cases recorded at 5 Langley schools

14 schools remain on Fraser Health exposure list

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. sees 873 more COVID-19 cases Tuesday, decline continues

Hospitalizations up to 377, two more deaths for 1,515 total

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Observers ‘gutted’ as pair filmed removing red dresses hung along B.C. highway

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Indigenous Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

A grey whale off the coast of Vancouver Island is being monitored by Canadian and U.S. researchers, as it has developed lesions after being tagged last year. To try and prevent systemic infection from developing, the team administered antibiotics to the whale on March 31 and April 1. (Photo from the NOAA Fisheries website)
Grey whale off Vancouver Island develops lesions after being tagged, researchers monitor its condition

Canadian and U.S. whale experts administered antibiotics to the animal on March 31, April 1

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

Sharis Carr, a nurse at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Service Center in Clarksdale, Miss., holds a box containing doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
EXPLAINER: What’s known about COVID vaccines and rare clots

These are not typical blood clots – they’re weird in two ways

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

In a 2019 photograph, Yin Yin Din held a picture of her brother Kyaw Naing Din, 54, and her late father Hla Din who passed away in 2014, during a trip to Victoria. (The News files)
Family of B.C. man killed by cop appeals to Attorney General for help

The Din family want B.C. Attorney General David Eby to forward their case to Crown

Most Read