Re: CHURCH & COVID-19
Dear Premiers and Health Ministers,
On behalf of our churches in the Province of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, I would like to thank you for the compassionate and conscientious leadership you have demonstrated in this pandemic. The nature of being in ‘unprecedented times’ is, of course, that we do not have many precedents to guide us. Therefore, all we can fairly ask of our leaders is that they focus on the task at hand, identify the best information available, show bipartisan collaboration, protect the most vulnerable, make decisions in good conscience, and adapt as events move along.
I would also wish to express our profound gratitude to all Canadian health care professionals who have worked sacrificially on our behalf. I know that those of us outside the health care industry cannot fully appreciate just how much you have given of yourselves or the toll that this has taken on you.
The Scriptures that we cherish provide us with unambiguous instruction on how we, the Church, ought to relate to the state: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” When Christians adhere to these words, it makes us ideal citizens. Which of us wouldn’t want neighbors who were ready for every good work, who spoke evil of no one, who avoided quarreling, who handled all situations with gentleness, and excelled at courtesy! It is only in exceptional circumstances, when the state obstructs the Church from carrying out the Mission of Jesus, that the Holy Apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.” In all other instances, obeying God and honoring our leaders go hand in hand.
As I consider the many churches across this great country of Canada, I estimate that +90% have followed their provincial health guidelines with admirable carefulness. If someone did not belong to a local gym, they may not appreciate the impact of having our gyms closed. Similarly, those who do not belong to a local church may not realize that the cost of this pandemic upon the churches. According to the most recent surveys, over 7,000,000 Canadians would attend a religious service weekly, if it were not for covid. That is the place where they find the strength to endure through this pandemic and where they are reminded weekly to love their neighbors through the same.
I admit to being embarrassed when I hear about churches flouting health guidelines and crying ‘persecution.’ This has added extra strain upon our politicians, police services, and health services. I hope your statisticians will confirm that this is a very small percentage of churches and not at all representative. As uncomfortable as it has been to have our normal worship interrupted, I cannot say that this has amounted to ‘persecution’ because every organization whose nature it is to gather people under one roof has been equally affected.
Having said that, leading people through a crisis requires having short, mid, and long-term strategies. When short-term strategies are stretched to become mid or long-term approaches, they can compromise liberty and produce unnecessary consternation.
We are at an important point in the pandemic. We now know where the covid virus is spreading most rapidly, and it only makes sense to place the tightest restrictions where transmission is the highest. Therefore, I am asking you to consider a provincial policy change and to reserve the tightest restrictions only to places where the rate of transmission is proven to be highest, and lighten restrictions upon organizations where transmission has been notably low. To place great restrictions on organizations who have adhered to the health guidelines and seen few transmissions has an inherent unfairness to it and will only add to the mounting tensions in our country.
I am not aware of a single case where a church that was adhering to provincial health guidelines (the vast majority of churches) was responsible for a covid outbreak! Therefore, I would like to see our provincial health officials lighten the restrictions on churches. Gathering is essential to our belief. The original word used by the Holy Apostles for ‘church’ (ecclesia), when translated, means ‘the gathered ones.’ We can put a pause on our gatherings for a time, in good faith, for the public good. However, this isn’t something that can reasonably be asked of us for much longer.
As you know, this issue recently came before the United States Supreme Court. The ruling is as follows: “The court orders California to weaken its restrictions on public gatherings by making a special exception for worship services.” I am asking that the same liberty would be extended to the churches across the Provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. This would require the churches to act as a responsible citizenry by practicing social distancing and wearing masks until our provincial health authorities deem it unnecessary. However, I ask that the fundamental right to gather would be restored to us and that religious services would be given essential service status.
We are deeply sorry and seriously concerned to hear of the threats of violence that have been directed against some public officials. We implore all citizens to refrain from violence of every kind and to dialogue in a manner that conveys dignity to others.
Bishop, Via Apostolica
Anglican Church of North America
 Titus 3:1–2
 Acts 5:29