With some Fraser Valley congregations insisting on their right to meet for public worship during the current pandemic, Mennonite Church B.C. leadership is encouraging its churches to follow current COVID-19 guidelines for gathering.
“MC B.C. supports and encourages your congregation to follow the recommended restrictions of the B.C. government and the provincial health officer stipulating no indoor worship services,” wrote moderator Gerry Grunau in a letter to MC B.C. members this spring. “MC B.C. does not believe [insisting on the right to worship in-person indoors during a pandemic] is consistent with the message of love, concern and community that Jesus teaches us. MC B.C. supports and affirms the health restrictions as measures to care for others and to preserve the capacity of our health system.
“Jesus calls us to serve our community and to follow his example of thinking of others first. To insist on our rights is contrary to the Christian message of doing to others as we would have them do to us,” he wrote.
Several Fraser Valley congregations—none of them Mennonite—have recently made news by advocating for the right to hold in-person indoor worship services, citing provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have been fined for holding the services contrary to B.C. provincial health restrictions.
On March 24, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, relaxed orders, allowing for limited indoor religious gatherings between March 28 and May 13. The one-time variance was to accommodate several faiths’ holidays, including Easter, Passover, Vaisakhi and Ramadan. Organizers were required have to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place. On March 30, Henry announced that, due to rising infection numbers, worship services in B.C. have been suspended until at least April 19.
In discerning the wisdom of the biblical message, MC B.C. has chosen to support the decision to continue to gather through alternate means such as online worship. Some also host informal weekly online visiting times. Sherbrooke Mennonite and Chinatown Peace churches in Vancouver held some socially distanced outdoor services last summer.
Other congregations have found creative ways to observe limited safe connections. Level Ground Mennonite of Abbotsford held a bring-your-own communion service and an interactive family-friendly Thanksgiving prayer walk last October. Cedar Valley Church in Mission invited members to a drive-in service on Good Friday in the church parking lot, including communion and stations of reflection and devotion.
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