The Pastor of The Voice of Pentecost Church in Williams Lake has support from Williams Lake city council in his request that churches be allowed to gather. (Google image)

The Pastor of The Voice of Pentecost Church in Williams Lake has support from Williams Lake city council in his request that churches be allowed to gather. (Google image)

Williams Lake city council adds support for churches, faith-based organizations to gather

‘If they can meet the criteria for distancing and masking why not allow it?’: Mayor Cobb

Williams Lake city council is adding its voice calling on the provincial government to allow church and faith-based meetings to resume as long as they can meet COVID-19 guidelines.

Council voted unanimously in favour of writing a letter of support during the regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, after they discussed receiving a letter from Pastor Tim Zotzman from The Voice of Pentecost Church, as well as a letter written by his district superintendent to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

In his letter, Zortman stated his request is for local government officials to stand with churches’ concern of the ‘unnecessary lockdown’ of churches and yet the continuing allowance of businesses with a much greater risk and lasting effects to be open.

He told the Tribune Wednesday, even if it means churches are required to have a smaller percentage of the congregation and safety protocols are in place they should be allowed to gather.

“This is discrimination against churches and the message from the public health is that we are seen as a threat to our communities in view of COVID19 when bars, restaurants, pools and theatres etc. are free to continue,” he said.

Mayor Walt Cobb said many churches have all the plans in place to meet the physical distancing requirements and several churches have launched court challenges against the provincial government.

“This is just a letter of support saying ‘give us a level playing field, and if they can meet the criteria set down by the Minister of Health for distancing and masking why not allow it?’”

Coun. Ivan Bonnell said under the same guidelines, spectators are not allowed in recreation facilities and is city council asking for a reprieve from that?

Responding, Coun. Jason Ryll said council may be opening Pandora’s box by having that recommendation.

“If it’s good for one, it could be applicable to them all and at this stage we heard from Interior Health earlier today that one of the biggest ways we can continue to help them is to continue to broadcast the message around the restrictions,” Ryll said.

Especially around gatherings, Bonnell added.

Coun. Scott Nelson said he recognized the importance of being consistent with the flow of information that goes out regarding COVID-19 restrictions.

“But I also recognize there is a disproportionate movement against some organizations and for me, whether you are playing hockey, going to church or going to Walmart, they should all be equal and I don’t see that taking place,” Nelson said. “From my perspective I support the faith-based churches position that if it’s safe to do it, they should be allowed to do it.”

Nelson noted if a number limit is set then it has to be adhered and if Dr. Bonnie Henry shuts everything down then everything is shut down.

“You can’t be picking and choosing,” Nelson added.

Zotzman said the Canadian Constitution right to assemble and worship freely is completely under attack.

“It’s the elderly, those that suffer mental illnesses, maybe even the poverty stricken. They don’t have iPads or iPods and cannot get on an online service, so what are we doing with them. Every day they don’t have the support they used to rely on.”

People are being pushed further into isolation, depression by not having the ability to connect, he added.

Church is an essential service, he said, adding he believes people glean support from in-person services.

“Not all faith-based ministries are created equal, and if its an ‘intellectual’ relationship with God then online does great, but a more holistic approach involves the spiritual and emotional and online doesn’t support that need.”

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