Coquitlam pastor pleads for return to indoor religious gatherings
VANCOUVER -- A Coquitlam pastor is calling on the Provincial Health Officer and Minister of Health to amend COVID-19 restrictions so clergy and parishioners can once again gather indoors for worship.
Westwood Community Church has been holding drive-in services since March and several dozen people attended one Sunday morning.
“It’s been exciting to see many people that are thirsting and really desire to come together. I think there’s what we call Zoom fatigue,” said Giulio Gabeli, the church’s lead pastor.
The Johnson Street church has a large parking lot which can accommodate drive-in services, and an FM transmitter so people who wish to remain in their cars can still hear the music, prayers and sermons.
Gabeli said the church has remained in compliance with public health orders throughout the pandemic, but he finds it frustrating that places of worship are not considered essential.
“We’re asking for our provincial government to allow us to be considered essential services because we can help British Columbians and Canadians in general through this pandemic crisis,” Gabeli said.
Under the current public health orders, outdoor church services are restricted to 50 people, socially distanced, as well as additional people in up to 50 vehicles.
Regular indoor services are prohibited, but up to ten people may attend weddings, baptisms and funerals.
“We’re asking respectfully, Dr. Bonnie Henry, we’re asking respectfully, our Minister of Health Mr. Adrian Dix, just lift the ban on indoor public worship,” Gabeli said. “And to treat us with the same standards that are applied to workplaces, applied to schools, applied to the shopping mall, applied to grocery stores. We can keep our people safe just as well.”
The current ban on indoor services has been in effect since November, with a variance issued in March to allow for the outdoor services.
“We can’t totally do it online. There is something about the presence of being together and I think there is a connectedness that happens within us that allows us, and gives us hope, to be able to move forward as we try to manoeuvre through the pandemic,” said Westwood parishioner Jackie Ryan.
Gabeli said weather can play a factor when it comes to attendance for his outdoor services, and allowing services indoors would enable his church to consistently reach more people.
In the midst of a third wave of COVID-19 that has led to record case numbers and hospitalizations, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have not hinted about when rules around religious gatherings might be relaxed.
In Saskatchewan, the province announced a phased reopening tied to vaccination numbers.
Indoor public gatherings of up to 30 people, including religious services, will be allowed in that province three weeks after 70 percent of people over the age of 40 have been vaccinated — a target that was met this weekend.
CTV News reached out to staff at the B.C. Ministry of Health asking if there are case number thresholds, or vaccine targets that must be met before restrictions are eased.
An emailed response said there are no updates on when public health orders might be relaxed.