The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star file)

The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star file)

Make church an essential service: Vernon council

With mental health crises on the rise, politician says places of worship need to reopen to support those struggling

Akbal Mund has lost more friends in the last few months to suicide than any other cause, including COVID-19.

The subject of declining mental health was raised by the Vernon city councillor in response to the need for opening supportive services such as church.

“People need a place to go when they are alone,” Coun. Mund said at the Monday, Jan. 11 council meeting.

The discussion was sparked by a request from Coun. Scott Anderson to write a letter to the provincial government asking that church be deemed an essential service. His motion was passed, but not without opposition.

READ MORE: In-person worship should be deemed essential: Vernon city councillor

“I think this is nuts,” said Coun. Brian Quiring, who has attended church all his life. “You think you’re going to be able to control social distancing in a church? Not a chance. You’re meeting with people you haven’t seen in a long time and you will not social distance. People are going to have their kids there, it’s going to be mayhem.”

While he agrees that church is an essential service, he does not agree that now is the time to reopen them.

“It flies in the face of what the provincial health officer is saying,” Quiring said. “You would put a high-risk group of our population in an even greater risk.”

Scared of what could potentially happen, Quiring said it is not worth the risk.

Mayor Victor Cumming echoed Quiring and cautioned the rapid spread that could potentially happen, putting British Columbia in a position similar to that of Quebec, with curfews now in place, or Ontario, where they’re not opening schools.

“It doesn’t happen in ones and twos, it goes viral super fast,” Cumming said, reminding his colleagues that B.C. is currently having all those at greatest risk vaccinated, so to hold the course while that work is being done is critical.

“The idea that we can somehow manage this successfully has not proven out.”

With a grandfather, father, brother in law and two uncles who were all ministers, Cumming understands the value, importance and significance of church. But after seeing a friend of his and his wife get very ill from COVID-19 in December, he doesn’t want to see the good work being done come undone.

“It comes apart fast and it comes apart exponentially,” Cumming said.

The request was brought forward to Coun. Anderson by a representative of the Canadian Reform Church of Vernon.

“All they are asking for is to be designated as essential services, like pubs and restaurants and cannabis stores and big box stores and airplanes and small junk removal companies,” Anderson said.

He wants to see worship leaders given the same trust that they will follow public health orders, and ensure their members do too, just as well as pub owners do.

Coun. Kelly Fehr agrees.

“It’s outrageous that I can go to a pub or Costco but I can’t go to a place for mental health or spiritual needs,” Fehr said.

With the Sikh Temple doors being closed, Coun. Dalvir Nahal cited a family struggle.

“I know that my mom is having a hard time because that’s where she found solace,” Nahal said. “A lot of people have nowhere to go.”

Coun. Kari Gares thinks Vernon’s request to the province will fall on deaf ears, but she too agrees that church is essential to mental health now more than ever.

“There is a lot of people out there that are struggling. Church was their haven, their safe space, the place they went to feel whole,” Gares said. “How many people out there right now are not feeling whole because COVID is taking a piece of them.”

Even if churches were granted the ability to reopen, Mund points to those most at risk who are concerned about the virus could continue to enjoy virtual services.

“Those people who are scared to go won’t go. You’re not going to have a full congregation off the bat,” Mund said.

Some Vernon faith leaders, however, stand with the health orders closing in-person congregations.

A joint letter of support, penned by 38 church leaders across the province was sent to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix Jan. 5, expressing their disappointment with religious leaders of those few establishments who, despite the orders, continue to host in-person services.

Brought to Vernon by Peace Lutheran pastor David Hunter, All Saints Anglican Church Rev. Canon Chris Harwood-Jones was happy to sign alongside Trinity United Church minister Rev. Robin Jacobson.

All Saints has not had in-person worship services since March and senior priest Harwood-Jones said the church had never taken the position that “in-person gatherings are ‘essential’ to Christian faith practice.”

Instead, All Saints has invested time and funding into tech to bring its worship services online and now people from as far as California, Quebec, Alberta and Ontario are tuning in.

“We’re not going to waste a good crisis,” Harwood-Jones said regarding plans to bring streaming services into a post-COVID reality. “We have to do it, so we might as well do it well and continue to do it after.”

READ MORE: RCMP pay another visit to Kelowna church already fined for defying public health orders


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusReligion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Alexandra “Annabelle” Lee and her grandpa Bryan Weightman enjoyed a shopping spree at the Sicamous Askew’s foods location after Weightman won a draw for a gift card. (Submitted)
Sicamous seven-year-old fills grandparents’ shopping cart after contest win

When her grandparents won an Askew’s Foods gift card, Alexandra Lee got to handle the shopping

Staff at R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum and community partners are preparing several interactive contests to help celebrate the 25th annual Heritage Week, Feb. 15 to 21. (Contributed)
Public to play interactive role in Salmon Arm Heritage Week celebration

R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum silent auction to kick off events on Feb. 15

A large portion of Anglemont is without running water due to a water main break on Jan. 26. (CSRD Image)
A large part of Anglemont in the North Shuswap is without water due to a water line break on Jan. 26. (Black Press File Photo)
Broken water main leaves Shuswap community without running water

The water line has left Anglemont residents either without water or with low pressure.

(Pixabay)
‘Roadmap out of COVID-19’: Innovate BC’s program helping businesses recover

CEO Raghwa Gopal said the tech sector is here to help brick and mortar businesses

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to reports of a structure fire on Valleyview Place Jan. 26, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
Fire snuffed in Vernon home

No visible smoke, flames from area of reported structure fire

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Kevin Lee Barrett pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of his mother Eleanor Holmes on Tuesday, Jan. 26. (File)
West Kelowna man who beat his mom could be sentenced up to 9 years

Kevin Barrett entered a surprise guilty plea to the lesser charge of aggravated assault on Tuesday morning

Interior Health reported two more COVID-19 deaths at Sunnybank Retirement Center in Oliver Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (File photo)
COVID-19 claims lives of two more South Okanagan care home residents

Five residents of the Oliver care home have died since the outbreak was first declared

Vernon now has an approved 13 cannabis shops in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon, the ‘Pot capital of B.C.’ greenlights two new stores downtown

Two more shops, within 240 metres, approved, despite neighbouring businesses opposition

11 more cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a cluster on Big White Mountain. Pictured above is TELUS park at Big White Ski Resort, Jan. 26. (Big White Ski Resort)
11 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

This brings the total case count to 225, according to health authorities in a Tuesday update

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

Oliver Elementary School
Former Oliver PAC treasurer charged with fraud returns to court

Belinda Yorke will be in court to fix a date for trial in February

Most Read