Members of Innisfail United Church know that we have not met in person since March 15th of last year. We made the decision to keep our members safe and to follow the laid out guidelines. A committee was stuck at the church and it was decided that since so many of our congregants are at higher risk of having severe outcomes if they were to catch the virus, we would wait to have in person worship until it was safer. It seemed the right thing to do.
During this time we have learned new ways of doing worship. We have learned a lot about filming our services. Our tech crew has done an amazing job. Written copies of our services are available for nursing homes and those without technology. It is not perfect but we have found new ways to worship.
Other churches have chosen to disregard the health guidelines. Gracelife church is in Parkland County, west of Edmonton. Since December, the church has chosen to disregard social distancing, mask, and crowd limits at their services. Around 300 people attend the services on Sunday. Their Pastor, James Coates, has called COVID a hoax. He has preached that Dr. Hinshaw and Premier Kenney are in a conspiracy to limit the freedom of worship and other freedoms. Both Pastor Coates and the church have been charged by local health authorities for violating the health guidelines. Last week Coates was jailed for his repeated offences.
Last night on the television news, members of Coates' church were seen protesting outside an Edmonton courthouse. They carried signs about religious freedoms. One woman said that Coates' arrest was unconstitutional because it was illegal to arrest pastors.
Here are my thoughts. I do miss in person worship. I miss seeing people's faces, hearing people sing, and the hugs, the laughter of coffee time. But I would hate that our worship time might kill someone and make many others sick. So I think it is important to follow the health guidelines.
Second, I support religious freedom. It is wonderful here in Canada that followers of many different faiths worship each week (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians). But through this pandemic I have learned that we can worship in new and different ways. Sure in person worship is wonderful, but worship via zoom or in written form also can work. During the midst of a deadly pandemic maybe it is best to find new, safer ways to be a community.
But what really irked me was this woman's statement that it was illegal to arrest a pastor. We are not immune from the reach of the law. Now I know this woman meant that it was illegal to prevent a church from worshipping. But that's not what is happening here. Pastor Coates could still legally conduct worship services. Members of the church can still attend services. But the question is how they do this. Pastor Coates can lead services as long as he ensures the church follows the AHS Guidelines on capacity, social distancing, masks, and screening those who attend worship. Services can be filmed, audio recorded for play at a later date, written out to be read later or preached to a crowd of no more than 15% of capacity. They could have more services at their church and still follow the health guidelines. But instead they flaunt the rules and say no one can tell us we can't do what we want. No one is stopping the congregation from worshipping. They just can't worship as if COVID is not around. It is not a violation of their rights. It is about the safety of everyone. Blessings