Ban on indoor religious services has been lifted; max 50 people

Religious services allowed

Beginning Thursday, religious organizations can once again begin holding indoor faith-based services with a maximum of 50 people.

The change comes after Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the first phase of reopening British Columbia on Tuesday. Churches, mosques, Gurudwaras, synagogues and other religious facilities have been barred from hosting indoor services since mid-November to prevent transmission of COVID-19. The order has been met with opposition across the province, including in Kelowna.

But with vaccination rates rapidly increasing across the province and daily case counts going down, churches are once again able to open their doors.

“It does involve indoor services up to 50 people ... It has provisions for things like masking, etc.,” Dr. Henry said Thursday.

“It does allow for small funerals and baptisms as part of a religious service. But not, at the moment, for weddings. Weddings are subject to the same restrictions we have on indoor gatherings ... limited to 10 people for weddings at the moment.”

The new guidelines requires participants at the service to remain two metres apart while indoors, unless they're from the same household, and wearing masks is required for those who are indoors.

The province's full guidelines on faith services can be found here, while the updated variance on the gatherings and events order, to allow for indoor worship, can be found here.

Currently, all other indoor gathering and events can only involve a maximum of 10 people, but that's expected to rise to 50 come Phase 2. On Tuesday, Dr. Henry said Phase 2 should be coming in mid-June, if vaccination rates continue to rise and cases continue to decrease.

The Kelowna Harvest Fellowship church has continued to hold indoor services in defiance of the public health order, and pastor Art Lucier has received six $2,300 fines as result.

Lucier has organized weekly “Let us Worship” protests in Kelowna's Kerry Park on Sundays since April 11, attracting hundreds of people. At the first protest, he told the crowd he's been hosting two in-person services every week “packed in a little tube” at his church near Harvey Avenue and Burtch Road.

Earlier this year, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the public health order barring indoor religious services, while ruling that a ban on outdoor protests was not constitutional.

While Harvest Fellowship and some other B.C. churches have been vocally in opposition to the public health order, other local churches have supported it.

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