To help to alleviate the fear and divisiveness around COVID-19 vaccines, a Quispamsis church is holding a virtual information session with two Christian doctors who will discuss the merits of the vaccines later this week.
The aim of the session isn't to debate the controversy over whether people should get vaccinated but to educate and help those who are fearful "feel more confident in making a sound decision," said Andy Broad, executive pastor with Kings Church.
"We really know these doctors, and we know for a fact they are very educated in their field of expertise," Broad said of Dr. Geoff Cook and Dr. Shola Keripe, who will be speaking with the church's senior pastor Brent Ingersoll via Facebook Live this Friday at 11 a.m. "We're trying to alleviate people's fear and stress, not to cause more fear and stress and division."
The information session comes after some churches in Perth-Andover – a COVID-19 hotspot – faced public scrutiny for allegedly discouraging their congregations from getting vaccinated. On Monday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said over the Thanksgiving weekend, 62 of 63 faith venues were in compliance with the province's emergency order, with His Tabernacle Family Church in Saint John the only exception.
On Monday, His Tabernacle Family Church posted a photo to Twitter, showing a letter from Department of Justice and Public Safety claiming that the church, which operates out of The Rockland venue at 348 Rockland Rd., is in violation of sections 3 and 15 of the mandatory order.
Section 3 of the order states that "owners, occupiers, and managers" of churches and faith venues must make every reasonable step to ensure every indoor gathering has fully vaccinated attendees. Section 15 of the order allows peace officers to enter and inspect any premises to ensure compliance with the order and to serve anyone found not in compliance.
"They came harassing me this morning at my home again," a tweet from His Tabernacle church reads. "Public Safety has issued the closure of our church doors."
But Broad said the vast majority of churches are following the province's current mandatory order.
"It's a small group that tends to buck the system, and have some of those less than desirable results," said Broad, adding the leadership with the Kings Church choose to separate church, politics and even personal opinions to play a positive role in helping people get through the pandemic.
"Our official stance on (vaccines) has been to encourage people to talk to reputable physicians – one that they trust, their family doctor and to take their advice and to follow it," Broad said.
The Government of New Brunswick reinstated a state of emergency following record-breaking case numbers during the beginning of the pandemic's fourth wave in the late summer. At the time, "worship-type events" were considered a significant source of cases.
Despite that, under the mandatory order, faith venues have been given two options: require proof of vaccination, or if not, hold church services at 50 per cent or less capacity, with physical distancing and contact tracing lists in place. With either option, masks are mandatory.
Kings Church hosts two services on Sunday: a 9 a.m. slot for those who are vaccinated and an 11 a.m. service for those who aren't.
"I thought it would be a bit more on one side than the other, but it's been almost a dead-even split between those two services," Broad said.
Brian Stockford, a senior pastor with Kennebecasis Baptist Church, said his church polled its congregation about a vaccine passport and discovered the majority were fully vaccinated.
"We're yet to find an unvaccinated person that would typically attend our church, so we found going with (the proof of vaccination) wouldn't be turning anybody away," he said.
Stockford also said he doesn't view the mandatory order as an attack on his faith.
"The government is not restricting us from meeting in smaller groups," Stockford said. "This is just a public regulation to keep our health-care system intact."
- With files from Sean Mott
Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal