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Religious leaders waiting for B.C.'s plan for indoor services

Last Updated May 26, 2021 at 6:31 pm PDT

FILE: In this Feb. 10, 2020, photo, a Catholic woman wearing a face mask prays during a mass at the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Manila's Chinatown, Philippines. In a popular Catholic church in Manila, nearly half of the pews were empty for Sunday Mass. The few hundred worshippers who showed up, some in protective masks, have been asked to refrain from shaking or holding hands in prayers. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

It's still not clear exactly when indoor religious services will be allowed to start up again in B.C.

But hope springs eternal for faith leaders across the province

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Patience remains a virtue for British Columbians hoping they will soon be able to gather indoors for religious services because the province’s pandemic restart plan for faith-based communities has yet to be finalized.

Yahya Momla, the senior Imam for the BC Muslim Association and the senior Rabbi Dan Moskovitz from Vancouver’s Temple Sholom, tell NEWS 1130 the Ministry of Health is in contact with religious leaders, and they are just ironing out the details.

“[The ministry said] we can anticipate getting some new guidance in the next couple of days, specifically about indoor services,” Rabbi Moskovitz says.

“I expect to hear something, if not by the end of this week, then the middle of next week, that will give us more guidance on what we can do indoors. But it’s certainly coming.”

Rabbi Moskovitz says the province just needs a few more days to work out a plan since only organized outdoor gatherings of 50 people with safety protocols are allowed.

Momla adds the wait for faith-based communities is understandable, since worship services look different.

“Naturally, the risk profile would be a little bit different, just because of the way each community worships. So I guess that would require a more detailed and nuanced approach to reopening places of worship,” he says.

But he adds he and his congregations are eager to head indoors finally.

“It’s definitely not the same [but] we’re making [outdoor services] work,” he says. “Especially the evening worship, sometimes it’s cold, it’s raining. The tents that we have, have to be open-sided, so sometimes the people standing at the edge … are getting a little wet. So we’re just waiting to go back inside.”

Returning inside will also benefit his elderly congregates and people that are not very tech-savvy.

“So we are looking forward to when we can when we can open up for everyone equally.”

With more conversation about mental health, well-being, and spiritual well-being during the pandemic, Momla adds that the province easing restrictions on worship services will greatly benefit since many people have been suffering.

“I believe faiths that worship and are congregating for the worship of God is something that’s essential to the spiritual well-being, in the mental health of adherence. So that’s something that’s been lacking throughout the pandemic. And if we’re going to get through this final push. I’m hoping that we can, we can look after this aspect of people’s well-being as well.”

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Moskovitz adds while his congregation is looking forward to the changes, it is still taking precautions.

“For many people, they’ve only had one dose of the vaccine. They would like to be fully vaccinated before they expose themselves or their families. Most of my regular congregates are elderly. And they’ve been very careful throughout the pandemic … Certainly having more vaccinated people in the congregation will make those that are vaccinated feel even more comfortable.”

While he’s confident indoor services may be allowed to resume as early as this weekend, Moskovitz says, “the hope is that you don’t have to go back.”

“So if it takes another month or so for us to get it all squared away, and then come back and we never have to go back in any sort of locked down, and we can only go forward from there — that would be tremendous.”

As for places of worship that have flouted the restrictions on in-person worship, Moscovitz says they are failing to do their part to keep congregants safe and healthy.

“It’s infuriating, because they’re putting people at risk, and they’re putting the faith community at risk,” he says.

No religion should put their faith in ahead of the health and safety of the people that are practicing that faith … Everything has to be set aside for health and safety, even religious practice, because the whole point of religion is to sanctify and honour human life.”

– With files from Tim James