With the news that the province of Alberta has reverted back to the COVID restrictions that had previously been done away with on July 1, deeming that masks are mandatory for all indoor public spaces and workplaces until further notice, many have wondered how that would affect men like Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church, or Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church, given that ostensibly these masks would have to be worn during singing and worship.
Both have shown a steadfast refusal to bend or budge to the demands of the government to dictate how their worship services must be run, even going to prison for their convictions, and at first glance, it appeared the new edict would put them back again in the sights of Alberta Health Services.
Canada is in the ‘4th wave’ and Alberta has a population of 4.4 million people. There have been a total of 2390 deaths in the last 18 months, 515 people are currently hospitalized and 118 in the ICU. The average age at death is 80 years old, 78.3% of the population has received one dose, and 70.2% has received both. There are currently 1400 new cases a day and 1-3 people pass away from it every day. As a result of the rise in COVID cases, Premier Jason Kenney was pointed in what must be done.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this, but this is not a time for moral judgments — this is a time to get people vaccinated. We have done everything we can…If you just haven’t gotten around to it, for the love of God please get vaccinated now — and if you do, we will pay you $100″ (The province is giving any unvaccinated folks a $100 gift card as an incentive to get the shot)
If cases climb, it is likely that the government may return to lockdowns and institute vaccine passports, as other provinces have done. With Canada in the middle of an election and voting in a few weeks, and every political party now in support of a federal vaccine passport, the latter seems an inevitability no matter what outcome. So far all the provinces that have instituted these passports have granted exemptions for churches, meaning that people won’t have to show proof of vaccinations in order to gather for worship.
As for the churches, and their ability to gather and then gather unmasked if they so choose, they are fine for now. Tim Stephens shared the following graphic on social media.
He’s referring to this document, the RECORD OF DECISION – CMOH Order 40-2021 signed by Deena Hinshaw, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, which reintroduced the mask mandates.
For the time being, given that the Premier was publicly excoriated for the optics of imprisoned pastors in his province, churches are exempt from the mask mandates. Furthermore, there are no hard caps on gathering sizes, with Alberta Health Services only offering ‘strong recommendations’ that unvaccinated folk limit their gatherings to 10 people.
The way things are going, however, churches that refuse to abide may yet find themselves in the crosshairs of a government willing to do anything to stem the tide of coronavirus cases.
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