COVID-19 rules: B.C. pastor says churches should be allowed to accommodate more than 50 people if safe
VANCOUVER -- The pastor of a Coquitlam church says he and his congregation are rejoicing after learning the province has given the green light to indoor faith services, but feels religious groups are still being treated unfairly compared to other sectors of society.
Normally, Westwood Community Church has capacity for more than 500 people.
“We’re grateful. It’s a step in the right direction, but we still feel that there are some inequities here,” said Giulio Gabeli, pastor of the church.
Thursday, the provincial health officer announced up to 50 people can now gather inside for religious services, including funerals and baptisms if they're part of a regular service, with indoor weddings still limited to just 10 people.
“Right now we want to proceed slowly and carefully, and I know many people are looking forward to being able to have indoor faith services with their community,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
Westwood has been hosting services in its parking lot for the past few months, broadcasting on the radio for those who wish to remain in their vehicles, and online for those who choose to worship from home.
“That has been the efforts that we’ve been taking to abide by the guidelines. But again, as I said, 50 individuals is a step in the right direction at least,” Gabeli said.
However, given the size of his church’s sanctuary, he’d like to see the number of parishioners inside increased, and he points to big box stores and restaurants, which are not limited to 50 customers at one time.
“Where’s the difference?” asked Gabeli. “Why is it more risky or why is there a greater risk for people to be gathered together in a worship experience than it is to be gathered in a restaurant where many more numbers are allowed, given the size of the restaurant?”
He says Westwood will hold a number of services each week to accommodate those who wish to attend in person, while continuing to broadcast online for those who are more comfortable staying home until later in the pandemic.