OLL

Father Rex Velmonte of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in West Kelowna leads an online-only worship service last Sunday.

 

Organizers of in-person worship services have been fined in some B.C. communities under COVID-19 regulations but the issue hasn't arisen in Kelowna.

 

At least, not lately.

 

"We had 12 calls related to churches, mosques, temples, etc, since we started tracking COVID-19 calls in March," City of Kelowna spokesman Tom Wilson said Tuesday. "But none since August."

 

Church services have been on something of a roller-coaster ride since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year. Along with many other events, in-person services were suspended in the spring, but were then allowed to resume with limited attendance.

 

Last month, however, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry once again ordered the cessation, at least until Dec. 8, of in-person worship services.

 

A quick review of the websites of four Kelowna area churches suggests all held online-only services last Sunday, which was the first Sunday in the advent season leading up to Christmas.

 

"We remain 100% committed to creating environments that adhere with all our provincial health authorities' guidelines for safety," Wayne Alguire, senior pastor at Trinity Church, wrote in a message posted on the site.

 

"Following Jesus is all about the people, not the place," Alguire wrote. "We have the privilege of living in a time where we can still celebrate, sing, and learn about God virtually. That is a blessing indeed."

 

Willow Park Church in Rutland, another large congregation, says: "We will be suspending our in-person gatherings and will be gathering online.

 

"Obviously, this is sad to hear as we enjoy meeting in person. But we want to help and do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, and protect our members and attendees as case numbers continue to rise," the church says.

 

During its most recent online service, First United Church in downtown Kelowna, Rev. Cheryl Perry noted that the theme of the first Sunday in advent is hope.

 

"Hope might seem in short supply these days," Perry said. "But let us be confident that God is with us as we gather to worship."

 

The most recent online service conducted by Father Rex Velmonte at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in West Kelowna concluded with a prayer that included the lines: "Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart."

 

In Langley last Sunday, a church was fined $2,300 for refusing to disband an in-person worship service after being visited by both municipal bylaw officers and RCMP.

 

Some faith leaders have bristled at the ban on in-person services, which is to remain in place at least until Dec. 8, noting that most businesses, including such establishments as liquor stores and pubs, have been allowed to remain open.

 

In the U.S., the Supreme Court last week struck down laws that sharply limited the number of people who could attend in-person worship services because of concerns the events contribute to the spread of COVID-19. The services were protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the court ruled.

 

"Government is not free to disregard the First Amendment in times of crisis," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.