Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)

2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

While most church-goers across B.C. have foregone Sunday gatherings for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the most recent health order has banned indoor public gatherings altogether, a couple of Chilliwack churches are defiant.

Feeling unfairly targeted by the Nov. 19 public health order on indoor gatherings, and certain they have the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pastors at Chilliwack Free Reformed Church and Free Grace Baptist Church held services on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, two and three days after such gatherings were banned.

“The identification of what is and what is not an ‘essential service’ is certainly open for interpretation, but in short, we believe that churches are essential, and that Christians are commanded by God to attend public worship,” Pastor James Butler of Free Grace Baptist told The Chilliwack Progress in a statement Thursday (Nov. 26).

“Our convictions compel us to worship our God in the public gathering of his people and we must act in accordance with our conscience,” Pastor John Koopman said in a statement issued Friday (Nov. 27).

A concerned citizen, who asked not to be named for fear of backlash, shared photos of the full parking lot at Free Grace Baptist on Sunday. She pointed out that the vast majority of devout citizens have been practising faith from home, either on their own or with online sermons.

She said many people are even staying away from loved ones in order to protect all those in the community who could be impacted by the illness caused by COVID-19.

“As we take these measures to protect those working around us, we need to hold ourselves to the same standard, and face the same repercussions for blatant non-compliance.”

In a video of the Nov. 22 sermon posted online – that has since been edited – Pastor Butler started off by reading an email he received from Pastor Koopman about the service the day before. Butler said Koopman told him the RCMP attended in the parking lot and “the conversation went well.”

“I also asked him to leave our people alone and to give me a ticket if one was needed he said he was merely there for education and he would write a report for his staff sergeant,” Butler said Koopman wrote in his email.

“We told him that we we would be uncompromising and would continue to hold worship even if ticketed or imprisoned.”

In his statement to The Progress, Butler said the rationale to meet despite Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order of Nov. 19 was threefold: They believe Henry’s order exceeds the “authority under God;” “we cannot, in good conscience, prohibit the freedom of religion that the Charter protects”; and they believe in-person religious gather should be considered an essential service.

For his part, Koopman focused on the constitutional guarantee of “freedom of conscience and religion which includes peacefully gathering together to worship our God.”

He said further that if hockey games, restaurants, retail stores and schools are still open, churches should be allowed as well.

Asked about enforcement of public health orders, Fraser Health spokesperson Aletta Vanderheyden said they work with community partners, municipalities, WorkSafeBC and local police on education and enforcement of pandemic protocols. She said in cases of gatherings in large public areas like shopping malls, local Health Protection Services office can be called for complaints and they will work with operators on COVID-19 safety plan.

As for church gatherings?

“In this case, RCMP are responsible for enforcement.”

Asked about that enforcement, Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail said respecting prevention orders from health authorities are “not optional,” but that the RCMP start with education.

“Our focus continues to be on education rather than enforcement, however should circumstances dictate, police have the authority to carry out enforcement of the provincial public health orders, to help ensure compliance and therefore public safety,” Rail said.

While the vast majority of churches have moved to online sermons only, Koopman and Butler are not alone in their pushback to the bans on worship gatherings. In an op-ed sent to The Chilliwack Progress, an elder at a church in Yarrow encouraged civil disobedience in this regard.

“God has commanded His people to worship Him regularly and corporately,” Mike Schouten wrote. “This means the church has a task to do, and we intend to do it.”

OPINION: Authoritarian attempt to lockdown churches is unjustifiable and unconstitutional

Free Grace Baptist Nov 262020 by Paul Henderson on Scribd

Free Reformed Nov 262020 by Paul Henderson on Scribd


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
editor@theprogress.com

@TheProgress
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Pioneer Arena is closing for the season. Photo: John Boivin
Castlegar’s Pioneer Arena and Nelson Civic Centre closing for season

RDCK is closing the ice at two of its arenas due to financial concerns related to COVID-19

A juvenile sturgeon in a B.C. rearing facility. The wild population in the Upper Columbia is estimated at 1,100 individuals, enhanced with roughly 5,500 hatchery fish. (file photo)
B.C.’s Upper Columbia sturgeon endure long battle with local extinction

Decades of monitoring and intervention is ongoing to save the prehistoric fish

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A performance by Alex Cuba will be streaming live on Arts Revelstoke platforms on Feb. 12, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Fasano, submitted by Arts Revelstoke)
Arts Revelstoke hosting virtual performances and movies this season

REVY. Live and Movies in the Mountains is returning

Summit Ski Hill had a delayed start to the season because of warm temperatures. Photo: Summit Ski Hill
Late season start frustrating for Nakusp ski hill

Summit Ski Hill only just opened Jan. 14

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read