I missed many things about St. Peter’s while on Sabbatical, however writing updates about the pandemic was not one of them. Alas, we are not through the pandemic and therefore another update is required. This week the governing officials of British Columbia released updated restrictions for religious gatherings.
Here are the key things to know:
- Masks are required in all indoor public settings including places of worship by all people born in 2016 or earlier (age 5+), including congregants and choirs. Masks can be temporarily removed for ceremonial eating and drinking, and by officiants, readers or for singing a solo where physical distancing is observed.
- If all participants are vaccinated as determined by the worship service leader, there are no capacity restrictions on worship services and choirs.
- If participants are not all vaccinated, worship services and choirs are limited to 50% seated capacity.
Without saying it explicitly in their written announcements, the health authorities desire the use of Vaccination Passports at religious gatherings that exceed 50% of the seating capacity.
These new restrictions do not immediately impact our gatherings.
First, in collaboration with UBC Robson Square, we already require masks during worship.
Second, since we have resumed meeting downtown our average Sunday attendance has not reached 50% capacity of the room. I must admit I find this disheartening. But as we’ve said in other updates, the pandemic has impacted and changed us as a church: some have moved away and others continue to worship online.
What if our gatherings reach and exceed 50% capacity?
I hope this question is more than a question. I hope it is an earnest desire. As a church we do not exist for our own sake but for the sake of others. We want to reach more people and we want to see God add more and more people to our little expression of his body. But the question stands: What happens if we reach and exceed 50% capacity?
The short answer is this: we have no intention of implementing Vaccination Passports. In the case that our gatherings get too large, we would sooner have multiple smaller services than require proof of vaccination.
As you know, we required Vaccination Passports at our recent Curry and Trivia event. This decision was a challenging one. However, because the event was primarily social and not a worship gathering in any sense, we felt it prudent to honour the regulations of our governing officials (accepting the complications of such a decision). However, when it comes to the fundamental activities of the church (such as Sunday worship, Community Groups, Catechism, Alpha, etc.), we cannot justify the use of Vaccination Passports as it runs contrary to our desire to create environments that are open for all to hear and be formed by the gospel.
This is a difficult tension
I am pro-vaccination (I wrote about it a long-time before the pandemic). Despite my own convictions, I have sought to listen to and understand the concerns of people who have hesitations about vaccinations or are against them entirely.
While I am unaffected by the Passports, I cannot deny that they are a coercive measure that cause unvaccinated people to either change their mind, violate their conscience, or be excluded from societal privileges. While some may struggle to sympathize with this dilemma, we cannot ignore how disorienting and painful it is for the people who are backed into the corner.
The few people in our church who are unvaccinated have a right to worship with us. We need to create a safe environment for their sake. They are assuming the risk. Vaccinated people could be asymptomatic carriers and can potentially make an unvaccinated person sick or very sick. This is a complicated dilemma. The unvaccinated person assumes the risk and yet the community is then required to also assume the risk of their potential harm (the degree of which is hard to calculate). I hope this brief comment helps us remember this is not a simple issue and I offer it as a reminder that our individualism sometimes needs to be checked by our communal reality. Even so, the church has always fumbled her way through complicated situations toward unity (c.f. Romans 14).
Where do we go from here?
I am not an expert in law, public-policy, or epidemiology. From my limited understanding, I believe the government has found a way not to violate our rights to worship while achieving their aims. I do not like it but I cannot speak with any authority whatsoever about the legality of it all. Even so, I remain committed to collaboration, finding creative solutions, and pursuing love as we endure through the pandemic together. As more resources for contemplating this matter become available, I will share them.
I empathize with the massive challenge the government faces in leading our society through the pandemic. I pray regularly for our leaders and I implore you to do the same (1 Tim 2:1). We should also resist making assumptions about their motives in respect to decisions that impact religious gatherings.
It is important to collaborate with our governing authorities and to express our support or concerns. In light of this announcement, I encourage you to write to your MLA again. In your dialogue with them, make sure that you communicate with gentleness and respect and in a way that honours the Lord (2 Tim 2:25; 1 Pet 3:15).
Brothers and sisters, our leadership needs your prayers. Pray for us to receive an abundance of wisdom and discernment from the Lord. Pray for the unity of our church in such polarized times. Do not cease to pray for us and for one another.
Grace and peace.