Closing services to unvaccinated a ‘difficult decision’ for southeastern church

·3 min read

While some churches and religious institutions in Southeastern Manitoba have been pushing back against public health orders, one church in a small Manitoba community has decided the best way to keep their members safe is to ensure that everyone that comes to their services is fully vaccinated.

“Right from the beginning of the pandemic, we have been committed to following public health orders,” David Wiens, a lay minister at the Elim Mennonite Church in Grunthal said.

“We know they help to reduce transmission of the COVID virus, and we know the intent of the public health orders is to protect public health.”

Wiens said that the church, which sits in the community of Grunthal, a town of about 1,700 residents that is located about 70 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, has been requiring proof of vaccination to attend their services since the beginning of December.

And although he said the new rules will prevent some from now attending their services, the church came to the decision that they were already excluding many of their members from coming to church if they didn’t make the change.

“We have many members who are vulnerable and didn’t even feel comfortable to come to services until we did this, so we are excluding people either way,” Wiens said.

“It was a difficult decision and we know some will now be excluded, but we came to the realization that was going to happen no matter what we did.”

Wiens said that he believes that as many as 90% of congregation members at the church are currently fully vaccinated, so there were not concerns that there would be a mass exodus of members.

He added they currently average about 50 people at their Sunday services, while also offering them virtually.

“There are vulnerable members who have wanted to come to a service for a very long time, and some find it very difficult when they cannot attend, and since we did this we have been able to welcome some of them back,” Wiens said.

And while Wiens said there has been some pushback and criticism in the congregation and in the community because of the new rules, he said there has also been praise from others for making the decision.

“There were concerns raised and the issue of exclusion was raised,” he said. “That’s the dilemma we continue to have, there are people who raised concerns, but also people who have appreciated what we have done here.”

But while the unvaccinated are not currently permitted to attend services at the church, Wiens said he does not want anyone to believe that the church is against those who have chosen to not get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“People make their decisions for whatever reason, and this is not us being against the unvaccinated,” he said.

“We look forward to a time when we don’t have to make these kinds of decisions or even think about these kinds of things, but that’s just not where we are right now.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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