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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

OPINION: Worship services should be considered essential services

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:

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

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

Just Posted

Mackenzie Ashley-Lynn Gilfillan was last seen Jan. 10 in the 45000-block of Menholm Road. (RCMP photo)
RCMP asking for help to find missing Chilliwack woman

Mackenzie Ashley-Lynn Gilfillan was last seen Jan. 10 in the 45000-block of Menholm Road

Chilliwack Chiefs
Chilliwack Chiefs acquire forward Ben Woodhouse from Wellington Dukes

The BCHL club swapped future considerations to the Dukes for the 20-year-old forward

Chilliwack is still one of B.C.’s COVID hot-spots, according to the latest weekly numbers from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Chilliwack records 140 COVID cases over seven-day period

Chilliwack’s case count per 100,000 people is among the highest in the province

An Abbotsford man was killed in a motor vehicle accident on Highway 3 on Monday, Jan. 18. (Black Press file photo)
Abbotsford man killed in Highway 3 crash near Hedley

Fatality was discovered by passing tow truck driver

Light boxes installed recently near Five Corners, seen here on Jan. 18, 2021. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Mystery of the large light boxes in downtown Chilliwack revealed

Some suggested ‘warming stations’ for the homeless; others guessed ‘public art’ installations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

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

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Most Read