Empty pews are pictured as assistant pastor Father Felix Min performs a Easter Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s in Vancouver Sunday, April 12, 2020. The Easter service was closed to the congregation and to the public to attend in person at they church but was live streamed to the internet. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Empty pews are pictured as assistant pastor Father Felix Min performs a Easter Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s in Vancouver Sunday, April 12, 2020. The Easter service was closed to the congregation and to the public to attend in person at they church but was live streamed to the internet. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

LETTER: Worship services should be considered essential services

One view: Limiting religious services to 50-or-fewer people is an infringement of Charter rights

By Levi Minderhoud

Imagine that, over the past couple of months, you have devoured most of the food in your kitchen. You, your spouse, and your children are growing hungry. You drive to the local grocery store. But when you walk up to the entrance, an attendant says, “sorry, COVID-19 restrictions require us to only allow 50 people into our store at a time. We are already at our legal 50-person capacity. Please sign your name to the bottom of this waiting list and we’ll call you next week when it is your turn to enter the grocery store.”

You return home hungry.

Of course, we all recognize this scenario as absurd – some things cannot wait for another day. While following rules and taking precautions are necessary during a pandemic, essential services must continue for the good of society.

This denial of basic necessities is not so different from what is happening to people of faith throughout British Columbia. Although grocery stores, hospitals, and many other sectors of the economy deemed “essential” are not subject to a cap of 50 persons on their premises, this restriction continues to apply to worship services. But worship services are an essential service to hundreds of thousands of Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, and other faith groups across the province.

In the Bible, Jesus says that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Christians require more than food, medical treatment, or employment income to thrive. Christians thrive by hearing the Word of God and by gathering together with fellow believers.

• READ MORE: B.C. faith leaders, Horgan discuss need for virtual religious ceremonies

• READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. church services resume with public health limits

The Apostle Paul also describes how members of the church are like parts of the body. The human body cannot thrive if major parts of it are missing. Similarly, a church cannot thrive if a majority of its members are missing. Weekly, in-person worship services are a vital opportunity to hear this life-giving Word of God and participate in the sacraments.

The case for the essential nature of worship services was recently made in an open letter sent to Premier Horgan, Health Minister Dix, and Provincial Health Officer Henry. This request to Expand BC Worship Services was signed by 143 churches in British Columbia in early June. That letter, to date, remains unanswered.

Some people, perhaps including our leaders in British Columbia, may doubt that corporate worship services are essential, but this mentality betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian religion. Just as medical treatment is to the injured, food is to the hungry, and work is to the unemployment, so the participation in collective worship services – hearing the preaching of God’s word, receiving the promise of baptism, participating in holy communion, praising God collectively in song and prayer, and fellowshipping with other believers – is to the spiritually deprived Christian.

Although Christians can derive some benefit from online worship services or in small groups, such worship services are akin to feeding someone a bread-only diet for months. It will sustain a person for a while, but it will eventually result in serious health complications. Similarly, Christians are starving for the nourishment that comes from full worship services.

I recognize that, given the reality of COVID-19, mass gatherings remain limited in general. But worship services are not just typical gatherings. Nor are they hobbies akin to yoga. Although worship services are considered similar to concerts, sporting events, and festivals in the explicit order against mass gatherings, worship services are categorically different than these activities in that they are – or are supposed to be –constitutionally protected, and doubly so.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion, both of which are seriously infringed upon by the limit of 50 people for worship services. According to these freedoms, British Columbians have a double constitutional right to attend religious worship services. They do not have a similar constitutional right to camp overnight, attend a movie theatre, dine at a restaurant, or stay in a hotel. Yet, Phase 3 of British Columbia’s Opening Plan removes restrictions on these activities, while maintaining the cap of 50 people at a worship service, even when some churches can seat thousands.

In light of the essential and Charter-protected nature of worship services, the leaders of British Columbia’s pandemic response should immediately change the Order of the Provincial Health Officer on Mass Gatherings to specifically allow for larger worship services. Raising the limit of people to 100 or allowing a certain percentage (e.g. 50%) of a church’s capacity to gather for worship would be a good first step, and in line with what other provinces are successfully doing.

As much of society re-opens around us, the provincial government must trust churches to operate safely and cautiously. It’s time for people of faith to declare that our spiritual food, distributed in weekly worship services, must not be rationed. It’s time for the provincial government to respect the freedom of the hundreds of thousands of people of faith in our province. It’s time to expand worship services in British Columbia.

Levi Minderhoud is the B.C. manager of the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), a Christian political advocacy organization.


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.

Letter to the Editor

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

Just Posted

Langley’s Julie Vantol shared this picture of her “intrepid” three-year-old son Jonas cycling along the shores fo the Fraser River on a recent sunny winter day. “Great day for a bike ride along the beach at Derby Reach trailhead, at 208th,” with the snow covered mountains in the background, she said. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
SHARE: Perfect biking weather?

Send us your photo showing how you view Langley, and it could be featured in a future edition

Fort Langley’s Wout Brouwer captured this picture of McMillan Island from the opposite shore of the Bedford Channel on Saturday, Jan. 16. (Special to the Langley Advance Times)
SHARE: Maple Ridge mountaintops backdrop former Ridge church

Send us your photo showing how you view Langley, and it could be featured in a future edition

Parker Goddard, swinging at the ball) is wanting to hear from anyone interested in playing Spikeball. (Parker Goddard/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Langley Spikeball is looking for players

Local resident inviting people to try out a new hybrid sport – volleyball meets trampoline

Anne-Marie Walsh snapped this photo of farmland along Glover Road on Oct. 10 when the interesting clouds caught her attention.
SHARE: Clouds captivate in rural Langley

Send us your photo showing how you view Langley, and it could be featured in a future edition

Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or in writing.
LETTER: Langley churches offer in-person services precisely because they care about people

Letter writer concerned Township councillor wants to punish churches with tax threat

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

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

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Pindie Dhaliwal, one of the organizers for the Surrey Challo protest for Indian farmers. She says organizers were told by Surrey RCMP that the event was not allowed due to COVID-19. Organizers ended up moving the protest to Strawberry Hill at the last minute. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Indian farmers rally moves as organizers say Surrey RCMP told them they couldn’t gather

Protest originally planned in Cloverdale, moved to Strawberry Hill

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Most Read