Free Grace Baptist Church on Wellington Avenue – seen here on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 – was one of two churches in Chilliwack that continued to hold in-person services despite public health orders. Chilliwack RCMP announced on Dec. 6 they were investigating. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Free Grace Baptist Church on Wellington Avenue – seen here on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 – was one of two churches in Chilliwack that continued to hold in-person services despite public health orders. Chilliwack RCMP announced on Dec. 6 they were investigating. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

LETTER: Church attendee says ban on in-person gathering is inconsistent with government policy

‘I will disobey until the government sorts itself out’

This Sunday is the second time now the police have shown up and, after the service (interestingly) ordered us [Editor’s note: at one of the two Chilliwack churches violating public health orders on in-person gatherings] to disperse, which we did, peacefully (Even if, I must admit, hearing the order inspired me to want to then begin a prolonged hymn or carol singing session. I know, I’m such a badass!).

Here in B.C., the government has banned large gatherings to prevent COVID transmission. I understand that, I respect that. However, the government has allowed restaurants to remain open to dine in, and schools and day cares to remain open. All while cancelling in-person church services of less than 50 people, every family sitting at least six feet apart, all wearing masks, no Sunday school or nursery.

Currently, the outbreaks we are witnessing are at gyms (which have been closed mostly), schools, old folks homes, and restaurants. I am unfamiliar with any that have been traced to a church.

Sir, I understand the need for public health orders. I understand the need to prevent transmission of a disease which causes very curious and hitherto misunderstood symptoms, and whose long term impacts are not fully known. I would, and do respect the need for caution, distancing, and vigilance in monitoring myself and my children for illness and staying away until we receive positive confirmation that COVID is not present.

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However, B.C.’s current outright ban on in-person church services is totally inconsistent with wider government policy. How is it possible that one could think eating at a restaurant is, in any way more important than communally praising and worshipping the maker, creator, and sustainer of the universe? How can one possibly imagine that one needs to attend a brick-and-mortar school more than one needs to attend a service to receive the reassurance that despite our plethora of failings, wrongdoing and (yes, I daresay it) sin we are forgiven, loved, and restored to grace, and how we are to respond to this gift by living a good and upright life?

Yes sir, we can partake in a church service online, but one also does not need to sit in a restaurant to eat, and one can also get an education online.

And that is the crux of this issue: The inconsistency of this rule banning in-person church services with wider government policy. If schools and restaurants were closed, I would have no issue with remaining at home and partaking in church online. The fact schools and restaurants remain open means the rule banning in person church services is not being responsive to the situation at hand, but rather is repressively targeting communities of faith.

And this I will not stand. Nor will I comply with such a rule until either wider health restrictions make this rule consistent with its approach, or until this rule is modified to become consistent with the wider policy currently in place.

I want to obey the government. But I will not betray my conscience to do so. So I will disobey until the government sorts itself out.

Joel Penner

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