I noticed that the Record invited a discussion on the Archbishop of Vancouver’s statements about the recent lockdown of worship spaces in our province.
Just as it is important to be make policy decisions based on the most accurate knowledge available, so it is important that such a discussion should reflect the reality in the Valley. As the pastor of the only ordinary Roman Catholic Parish in the Comox Valley, I will offer what I can.
In the Roman Catholic Church, even though we are in communion with churches across the world, each local church is governed separately. This means that the church on Vancouver Island is separate from the church in Vancouver.
When COVID started to spread within Canada, each bishop in B.C. voluntarily closed our churches. During this time, the bishops consulted with each other as well as with health care experts, community members, and local clergy to find the best way we could serve our people. When we re-opened our churches on Vancouver Island on Pentecost Sunday (May 31), each parish was given a series of guidelines that allowed us to conduct our services in a safe and reverent manner. Not only did we comply with all the province’s regulations, we did more. Jesus said: “If anyone asks you to go one mile, go for a second mile also.” (Matt 5:41)
Here in the Valley, we had about 500 parishioners registered to come back to church. We simply could not fit them all in at once so we created 10 micro-communities of 50 that would attend services throughout the week. They also remained as a bubble so that if anyone contracted COVID in their group, they could be isolated from each other. Our worship space is also large enough that we can easily fit 50 people and maintain appropriate social distancing. After each service, each community would clean the worship space and log what they had done. As a backbone to this, our office administrator and maintenance manager continued to work. I believed it would be unjust to lay someone off simply because collections went down.
In addition to Christ the King Parish, I can say that many other Christian communities in the Valley were compliant with the province’s regulations. We love our people in our own flawed human way. Because of the protocols mentioned and many more, I sympathize with Archbishop Miller’s position. Of any public place over the last few months, I feel safest in our parish. I say that knowing the hard work that our hospitals and retail outlets have put in to making their locations safe. Regardless of these successes, our parish is again closed and live-streaming in unity with the whole province. In fact, when the news came on Thursday afternoon, we were able to use our protocols to get the word out very quickly.
Mistrust and fear are deadlier and spread faster than any virus. It is true that some of us feel singled out by this lockdown. We are offering our point of view in kindness to build bridges and honest dialogue. I believe that Archbishop Miller said what he said in love to help our province and its leaders. I also acknowledge that it is not advantageous for the government to provide a particular worshipping community a dispensation in such times. In this situation, I see again an application of Jesus’ challenge to his disciples: When they tell you to go a mile, go for two.
Sad as it is not to be with my parishioners, we will render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
In the meantime, the people of Christ the King pray for Archbishop Miller, our local Bishop Gary, Dr. Henry, Premier Horgan, and especially for all the residents of our beloved Comox Valley
Fr. David Hagman
Pastor of Christ the King Parish