Kamloops church leaders have been through ups and downs in the past week, with respect to health orders and indoor services.
Last week saw two variances made to public health orders related to churches. On March 23, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said outdoor worship services could be held with up to 50 people. Churches began planning for upcoming religious holidays, including Easter.
A number of restrictions were placed on the outdoor gatherings, including pre-registration, health checks, social distancing, masks and no singing among the congregation.
Then, on March 25, another variance to orders came down, allowing indoor gatherings for worship on four days between March 28 and May 13. Guidelines for the variance stipulated no more than 50 people, or 10 per cent of the worship building’s capacity, could worship together.
This past Monday, that permission was revoked with a “heavy heart,” Henry said, as part of new health orders intended to curb transmission of COVID-19 variants of concern and lower daily case counts, which have been nearing 1,000 per day recently.
“I’m a little disappointed. I’m trying to get my head around why they didn’t know the numbers are going up,” said Steve Filyk, minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sagebrush. Filyk is one of many church leaders in the city struggling to make heads or tails of the past week. When he heard indoor services could be held once again, the church went all in on that plan.
Based on its capacity, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian could have had up to 25 congregants for a service.
This past Sunday, he put letters in the mail to many who might attend, only to have the permission revoked the following day, before those letters were even received.
“The government giveth and the government taketh,” he said.
Filyk said he is concerned for those in his congregation, especially seniors, who don’t have opportunities for social engagement at home, and was hoping to allow people to come together.
Outdoor gatherings are now being considered, but Filyk is skeptical about the value of holding such events.
“What is being proposed for us is that you show up, participate in some sort of transaction and get out. That’s not really worship for us,” he said.
Lead minister Michael Caveney at Kamloops United Church downtown said the church didn’t even plan for indoor or outdoor gatherings.
For Easter, a livestream of services is Plan A.
“We already have everything planned. And we get double the amount of people watching our services on livestream than we would get in person. Our livestream has gone crazy. We’ve had over 700 people for some services, from all over the world,” he told KTW.
Caveney said an Easter service at the church would normally bring in 250 to 300 people. He said he would be hesitant to limit that.
“What do you do if you say that only 50 people can come? Is it the first 50 people? It just makes it awkward, so we’ve just decided to err on the side of caution,” Caveney said.
At Motion Church in Sagebrush, plans were underway for indoor gatherings before the announcement was made, based on hints from Henry that such services would soon be allowed.
But when the announcement didn’t come early last week, lead pastor Jonny Strutt said in-person plans were abandoned, made again late last week and then abandoned again this week.
“It’s a challenge to stay positive and to overcome the frustration. It’s also eroded, I think, a lot of trust in the public health officials for people of faith,” he said.
Strutt said the current plan is to livestream Easter services and encourage people to gather in groups up to 10 in backyards to tune into the broadcast.
“So people are going to gather for Easter Sunday and just invite their friends or neighbours over for Sunday,” Strutt said.
The pastor also expressed frustration with the fact that groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can use the church for their purposes, but it can’t be used for worship.
“If that group changed to worship, it’s immediately illegal, even with the same protocols in the same building,” he said.