B.C. churches host drive-thru, virtual Easter services after indoor gatherings cancelled

·3 min read
Father Guy Rivard distributes communion during a drive-thru Easter Sunday celebration at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vancouver on Sunday. (CBC News - image credit)
Father Guy Rivard distributes communion during a drive-thru Easter Sunday celebration at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vancouver on Sunday. (CBC News - image credit)

Churches in B.C. hosted COVID-safe Easter services Sunday after the province cancelled plans for indoor religious gatherings earlier this week.

St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vancouver invited parishioners to receive communion at a drive-through in its parking lot.

"We call this 'in-vehicle attendance,'" said Father Guy Rivard. "I'm troubled and stressed by our parishioners' sadness [...] the sadness that comes from the fact that our churches are closed."

Sunday morning, attendees were able to watch mass from their smart phones or tablets while sitting in their cars. When time came for communion, Rivard came outside and went car to car to give out communion.

Father Guy Rivard of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vancouver says he was relieved the province suspended indoor religious gatherings as COVID-19 cases spike in B.C.
Father Guy Rivard of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Vancouver says he was relieved the province suspended indoor religious gatherings as COVID-19 cases spike in B.C.(CBC News)

In Surrey, Faith Dominion Ministry held its Easter Sunday service over Zoom. Father Paul Omonua says the virtual gathering was a poor substitute for the communal meal his parish usually shares.

"It was very disappointing because traditionally as a church, we get together for a kind of dinner together and we eat together."

His church had planned to hold indoor gatherings until health authorities suspended plans to allow limited indoor worship for April celebrations like Passover and Easter.

Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made changes to her rules for houses of worship that would have allowed for services of up to 50 people in indoor settings, but later reversed that decision as COVID-19 cases reached a new peak.

Rivard says he was disappointed when Henry opened the door to allow religions gatherings inside and was glad to see the province reverse course.

"From a public health perspective it wasn't wise," he said. "The cases were already spiking and the variants were here and spreading."

Churches defy health orders

A number of other churches and B.C. seemed willing to defy the provincial health orders and risk sanctions by hosting Easter Sunday services.

The names of a dozen B.C. churches were listed on a web page titled We Will Gather Easter 2021 hosted by the group Liberty Coalition Canada which opposes lockdown-style pandemic restrictions.

The page invited any church willing to "open publicly without government-imposed restrictions that violate personal conscience, the nature of worship, or the ability for people to participate" to add its name to the list. It includes close to 80 churches across Canada.

Several of the B.C. churches indicated on their own websites that they had scheduled in-person masses, but CBC News was unable to verify if their plans changed after the latest restrictions.

CBC News called the B.C. churches on the list and only heard back from Omunua, who says his church cancelled plans for indoor gatherings, and Father John Kaptein, the reverend of the King's Way Church in Vancouver.

Kaptein refused to answer questions about whether his church had in fact hosted an indoor mass and challenged health officials to recognize the role of churches during the pandemic.

"The issue is all churches should be open because they're essential services," he said. "Churches are helping people out with counselling.... Dr. Bonnie Henry needs churches praying for her because that's one of the main functions of churches."

The list of defiant churches also included Langley's Riverside Calvary Chapel which is one of three Fraser Valley churches that have filed an appeal in a British Columbia Supreme Court decision that upheld public health orders banning indoor religious services in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the province.