To the Clergy and Lay of the Diocese of New Westminster,
Greetings to you and once more I give thanks to God for all of your work that helps to ensure the safety and protection of the people of the diocese. The last 19 months have been difficult for all of us, and I thank you for your commitment to following the protocols that I have put in place in response to the guidance of the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Recently, I contacted the PHO to ask specifically about meals, coffee hours or receptions following worship services. I’d also asked about meetings during the week (Bible studies, Parish Council Meetings, youth groups, etc). Here is part of the response sent out to faith leaders in our province:
A number of faith-based organizations have requested clarification on the proof of vaccination requirement and mask mandate. All worship services (and receptions following services) are exempt from the mask mandate and the requirement for proof of vaccination. In addition, any public meetings held in faith-based settings that have a worship component such as youth groups and pastor meetings or essential services like NA/AA group meetings, warming and cooling centres, or providing food to people in need, are also exempt from the mask mandate and proof of vaccination requirement.
Dr. Henry is fully supportive of faith leaders putting into place firmer protocols increasing the safety for all people and reducing the spread of the virus. From this, I want to reiterate and clarify my expectations within the Diocese of New Westminster:
Along with this:
Essentially, we are holding the course from my last pastoral letter (August 26), but I felt that it was important to clarify things, in light of the new communication from the PHO. Worshipping communities are being given much leeway allowing us to continue to gather as a community of faith, but we must accept these exceptions to the protocols with responsibility and gratitude. Please do continue to care for one another and love your neighbour as yourself. Remember that not everyone is ready to return to in-person worship and there continues to be much reticence about being indoors with others.
If your community is planning a social event, indoors and in-person, which does not have a worship component, then there will need to be vaccine passport check before people come in. If you rent out space in your building to another church, they must comply with the PHO; they do not have to comply with my expectations. If you rent out space in your building to a group that is purely social (ie not a worshipping community or AA or NA) they must follow the PHO guidelines of masks and vaccine passports. Please have all outside groups sign the waiver forms and know that they must follow the PHO protocol.
On a slightly different note, it is possible that some requests may come to clergy or other parish leadership seeking vaccination exceptions on religious grounds. The chancellor for the Diocese of Edmonton, after examining various aspects of civil and canon law, drafted this response:
"There is neither legal nor doctrinal authority within the Anglican Church of Canada or any of its ministers to issue the requested religious vaccination exemption"
The chancellor for our diocese, Mr. George Cadman, QC, ODNW, completely supports this response from the Diocese of Edmonton. To be clear, no clergy person of the Diocese of New Westminster is authorized to issue a vaccination exemption on religious grounds.
I continue to give thanks to God for the ministry of all the clergy and lay leaders of our diocese. Please know of my ongoing prayers. May God continue to guide us, encourage us, and strengthen us as the effects of this pandemic persist and still touch our lives.