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Anglican bishop backs restrictions on church services as B.C. councillor pushes for them to be allowed

Online church
Virtual church. (via Getty Images)

A B.C. city councillor hopes to have his notice of motion heard in the new year on reopening church services in the province.

On Monday, Vernon councillor Scott Anderson brought forward a notice of motion seeking to convince the province to reconsider public health orders that have suspended in-person worship services. Anderson says he believes they should be declared essential.

And he was joined by the B.C. and Canadian Civil Liberties Associations on Thursday (Dec. 17), as they penned an open letter to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, noting that freedom of religious expression is a constitutionally protected right.

In her briefing on Thursday, Henry said she understands that church services are essential, but that the temporary suspension is for the greater good.

"We all know that church services are fundamentally different than a retail transaction ... or in a restaurant ... There's a fundamental difference in how we come together in places of worship.

"This virus doesn't recognize that it is a church or a synagogue or a temple.

"We saw that even though we were following all of the safety protocols ... it was being transmitted in some of those settings."

Henry said the measures have nothing to do with taking away people's rights.

"This isn't about whether a spiritual service is essential ... it is absolutely essential."

She said such gatherings are "just too risky right now."

Meanwhile, the bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada's Kootenay diocese, Rev. Lynne McNaughton, said in a press release Friday she is "fully in support of the Ministry of Health restrictions."

"Individual rights, while fundamental and necessary, are always to be balanced with the needs of society.... In these next few months, the need to reduce transmission of the virus takes priority over my need to worship in person.

"Although we dearly miss our in-person worship and are saddened by diminished Christmas traditions this year, we feel that foregoing these this year is a demonstration of Christ's call to care of our neighbour.

"We believe it is a small sacrifice on our part to care for health-care system at this time."

Anderson's motion, if passed, would see the City of Vernon write to the province in support of religious services.

"We're allowing big stores like Walmart to run with very little restrictions," says Anderson. "There's no real enforcement of physical distancing in those big box stores, but in a church I believe it can managed."