Reverend Brenda Nestegaard Paul prepares to record a worship session at Trinity Anglican/ Lutheran Church in Port Alberni. Nestegaard Paul has been creative in keeping her congregation connected through COVID-19. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Island faith leaders voice opposition to churches defying COVID-19 restrictions

‘The church is not just a building,’ says Vancouver Island pastor

A group of multi-denominational pastors from Vancouver Island and across British Columbia are raising their voices in support of B.C.’s COVID-19 measures.

“We wanted to make clear that faith communities that are flouting the protocols laid out by the health authority by gathering in person do not speak for all of us,” said Rev. Brenda Nestegaard Paul, pastor at Port Alberni’s Trinity Anglican/Lutheran Church.

“In fact, we believe that following the rules that keep us apart physically at this time is part of ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves.’ We need to do all we can to keep each other safe.”

Nestegaard Paul is one of the signatories of a letter, co-written by Rev. Aneeta Saroop, pastor for Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Vancouver and Rev. Kristen Steele, pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Langley, contradicts faith leaders in Chilliwack and Langley that have defied provincial orders banning gatherings. Thirty-six other Lutheran pastors also signed the letter.

The letter reads, in part: “We are faith leaders from across British Columbia and from multiple denominations within the province. We wanted to publicly reach out to show our deep respect and appreciation” to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, health minister Adrian Dix and their respective staffs.

“We fully support the work you have done throughout 2020 and appreciate your calm, considerate guidance and wisdom as you work to keep us all safe.

“We have been deeply disappointed in the multiple times that the voices of a particular group of faith leaders has been spotlighted and amplified publicly criticizing your work and your mandates. As you are already aware, these voices do not speak for all of us. We want to publicly reiterate our gratitude and support for your work.”

READ: Vancouver Island reverend keeps up congregation’s spirits during COVID-19 restrictions

Nestegaard Paul is one of numerous faith leaders who got creative when COVID-19 forced closure of her church last March, leaning on technology to keep her congregation connected. Sunday worship services have gone online, study gatherings and meetings moved to Zoom, she sent out daily prayers via e-mail and held a stay-in-your-car hymn sing-along at the Alberni District fairgrounds in the summer.

“There have been many meaningful moments during COVID even though we are not able to gather as we normally would,” she said.

Reverend Lyndon Sayers from the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Victoria, who co-pastors with Rev. Lyle McKenzie, has also moved much of his church’s programming online. Both of them are signatories on the letter to Henry and Dix.

“We have a COVID-19 leadership team that has been writing up and adapting (church) protocols as restrictions change,” Sayers said. “We’ve been thankful for the online tools so we are able to stream live our weekend worship on our Facebook page, YouTube and the church website.”

Sayers and McKenzie signed the letter because like Nestegaard, they felt it was important to give another voice amid faith leaders that are publicly defying COVID-19 protocols. Sayers said he doesn’t see faith and science as mutually exclusive, and while everyone is looking forward to the time they can meet again in person, they have found ways to keep connected with their congregation. In fact, some of their online offerings have given them a broader audience, connecting them to people from Washington State and southern Ontario.

Sayers said he intends to keep live-streaming weekend worship services even when the church can go back to gathering together again.

READ MORE: Three Chilliwack churches fined $18,400 for violating B.C.’s COVID ban on gatherings

“The church is not just a building,” Nestegaard Paul added. “The church is the people. We are able to be the church even as we are scattered all over the place.”

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