A coalition of 38 church leaders in B.C. released a joint letter on Tuesday, Jan. 5, saying they “fully support” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, and were “deeply disappointed” with critical comments made by some faith leaders, who, they stressed, do not speak for them.
“We wanted to publicly reach out to show our deep respect and appreciation for you, your staff and all those in leadership in this most challenging time,” the letter stated.
“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.”
The letter was co-written by Rev. Kristen Steele, pastor of the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Langley, and Rev. Aneeta Saroop, pastor of the Spirit of Life Lutheran Church in Vancouver.
Rev. Steele said it was in reaction to news coverage of critical comments made by some church leaders who oppose the limits on public gatherings.
“There wasn’t a lot of our voices,” Steele remarked.
“We just wanted to show our support.”
It was circulated to other Lutheran, and Anglican churches which have what Steele described as a “working relationship” with the Lutheran church, then sent to Henry and Dix in late December.
“None of us have served in ministry through a global pandemic before and we look to experts to help us through these times,” they stated in the letter.
“Your work has been invaluable to us. We have been deeply disappointed in the multiple times that the voices of a particular group of faith leaders have been spotlighted and amplified publicly criticizing your work and your mandates. As you are already aware, those voices do not speak for all of us.”
They added they were “deeply grateful” that Henry and Dix have consulted with faith leaders.
“Thank you for your hard work. We continue to hold each of you, your staff, our government, BC’s front line workers and all impacted by COVID-19 in our prayers.”
One of the signatories, Rev. Andrew Halladay, the vicar at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Langley, has, like most church leaders, moved services online.
“The people in our congregation want to demonstrate their love of God by keeping people safe,” Rev. Halladay commented.
“The church is not the building, it is the relationship we have with each other,” Halladay added.
Rev. Steele concurred.
“The building is closed, but the church is not closed,” Steele told Black Press Media.
As well, leaders of churches in Victoria, Nanaimo, Castlegar, Prince Rupert, Port Alberni, Gibsons, Kamloops, Kelowna, North Vancouver, Delta, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Richmond, Maple Ridge, and Vernon, also signed.
A few weeks earlier, Brad Sumner, pastor of the Jericho Ridge Community Church, located on the Langley-Surrey border, attracted thousands of views and dozens of mostly favourable comments when he posted an essay online that described shutting down in-person worship during the current rise in COVID-19 cases as “an act of Christian charity.”
Sumner asked “are worship services an essential service?” and concluded they are, but don’t need to be in-person.