Chilliwack Free Reformed Church on Yale Road, along with Free Grace Baptist Church, continues to hold in-person services despite the Nov. 19 public health order banning indoor gatherings. It’s one of the Valley churches, another is Riverside Chapel in Langley. (Black Press Media files)

Chilliwack Free Reformed Church on Yale Road, along with Free Grace Baptist Church, continues to hold in-person services despite the Nov. 19 public health order banning indoor gatherings. It’s one of the Valley churches, another is Riverside Chapel in Langley. (Black Press Media files)

LETTER: Head of ARPA says banning in-person worship in B.C. violates the Charter

Why are we allowed to take care of physical health in a gym, but not our spiritual needs at church?

Dear Editor,

In my community, I’m able to send my kids to school in packed buses, check out the latest exhibition at our art gallery, swim in the public pool alongside strangers, and enjoy a drink inside one of the local craft breweries.

I’m grateful for these freedoms.

But there is one increasingly glaring inconsistency.

For the past three months, my family and I have been strictly forbidden from stepping inside a church to worship God.

The non-profit organization that I lead is applying to intervene in a court case where the B.C. government order banning in-person religious worship services is being challenged by a few churches and individuals.

These petitioners believe that corporate worship (in-person worship alongside others) isn’t optional for their faith and that these religious services ought to be able to proceed carefully.

Christians understand that the requirement for corporate worship comes alongside a duty to love our neighbours and to protect life.

When COVID-19 first hit last March, I am not aware of one church that did not voluntarily suspend or drastically restrict their corporate worship services days before they were ordered to by the government.

RELATED – UPDATED: Lawyers spar over injunction against Fraser Valley churches defying health orders

Almost a year has passed, and our understanding of the virus is far greater than it was back in March.

The actions of this government make it very clear that COVID-19 is a serious concern, but not something that should stop work, education, many forms of recreation, and a host of other things that we understand to be important for our well-being.

Yet corporate worship remains completely banned.

Just as physical exercise may not matter much to those who just don’t care for it personally, the fact that some may not value spiritual health doesn’t mean that it isn’t crucial for many in this province, where a majority of the population identifies with a religion.

A few examples of just how discriminatory this is was recently communicated by a B.C. MLA to our Attorney General in a letter that was shared with me.

A pilates class can be held in a church gym or hall, but as soon as someone reads from a holy book, it would be prohibited. A band can perform at a hotel lounge, but if the band sings a religious song, it becomes a prohibited religious service.

A group can meet as a “support group” to support each other for a psychological, mental, or physical health condition, but the same people may not meet at a church to provide spiritual support to each other.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has given religious associations “permission” to do services virtually.

But, as grateful as I am for her efforts to provide leadership through COVID-19, I respectfully remind her that freedom and rights are not bestowed on us by the state.

They naturally belong to each citizen (hence the protection we are afforded by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which exists as a shield to protect us from the strong arm of the state).

RELATED: Injunction sought against Fraser Valley churches denying COVID orders

In fact, unlike many other activities that aren’t banned, religion is listed as the very first “fundamental freedom” that is recognized by the Charter.

If the freedom must be limited, justification has to be provided. We are still waiting.

Further, Dr. Henry hasn’t been given the authority to determine what constitutes faithful worship.

There is an appropriate separation that exists between the institutions of the state and the church. That separation was created in part because of the temptation for the state to use its strong arm to impose its beliefs on citizens.

For Christians, scripture makes it clear that we are to gather regularly to hear God’s word, pray, sing, take part in the sacraments, and make contributions for those in need.

The fact that some churches have decided that it is no big deal for them to substitute all of this with virtual alternatives in perpetuity doesn’t mean that all Christians ought to be coerced to come to the same conclusion, against their conscience and convictions.

Because we are also commanded in scripture to honour those in authority over us, through the past year supporters of our organization have sent hundreds of emails and phone calls to communicate respectfully with Dr. Henry and their elected representatives in B.C. about the importance of corporate worship.

In almost every instance that I’m aware of, the emails have resulted in form responses that ignore the specific and heartfelt requests of constituents.

And when a group of Reformed churches that have been carefully following the public health orders painstakingly organized a legal effort to obtain a variance (after close to a year of restrictions or bans), the provincial government didn’t even show the decency to respond.

Although we are not advocating that churches disobey the public health order, with this kind of response from the government it isn’t too surprising to see that many churches are being put in a very difficult position.

Our neighbouring province has taken a very different approach.

Alberta has shown more trust in churches to ensure that they care for the health and safety of their congregations. As a result, although capacity of buildings has been restricted, corporate worship has continued even through the climax of the second wave.

Through it all, there has been mutual and respectful dialogue, fostering trust and respect.

I’m seeing a great deal of kindness, patience, honour, and respect being demonstrated by religious communities in B.C.

My hope is that it is reciprocated by our government.

Mark Penninga, Smithers

Executive director of the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada, a non-partisan Christian political advocacy organization.


Do you have an opinion you’d like to share? Please send us a letter to the editor, including your first and last name, street address, and phone number. Email: news@langleyadvancetimes.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusCourtLangley

Just Posted

A Grade 8 class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
B.C.’s return-to-school plan good, but Surrey teachers hope there is room for adjustments

Surrey school district to receive $1.76M of the $25.6M provincial pandemic-related funding

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Pier has reportedly been unused for a long time

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

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

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read