Langley church breaks ban on in-person services for Easter Sunday, others adapt

Riverside Calvary church broke British Columbia’s ban on indoor religious gatherings this Easter Sunday, while many other churches in Metro Vancouver adapted their services to respect COVID-19 health orders.

At Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, dozens of people could be seen entering the church Sunday morning, with most declining to comment to CTV News Vancouver.

“My god is who I listen to. And I do it safely. It’s a glorious day. He’s shining down,” one woman said.

An online livestream showed a man, who appears to be Pastor Brent Smith, leading an in-person worship service that included live music and a sermon.

“Welcome again everybody to resurrection Sunday here at Riverside. We are so blessed to gather together and to lift up the name of Jesus,” he said to the assembled congregants.

Outside he was less talkative.

“No, I’m good thanks,” Smith replied when asked if he’d like to talk about why he held a service in violation of public health orders.

“I think the government doesn’t have the right to deny us a gathering,” one parishioner said to CTV News as she left the service.

In the week leading up to Easter Sunday, B.C. broke its record for the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded in a single day four different times – with more contagious variants being blamed for the rapid increase.

Riverside Calvary Chapel is one of three churches that took the province to court to challenge the ban on in-person religious gatherings.

BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson recently dismissed the petition brought by the churches.

“Although the impacts of the ... orders on the religious petitioners' rights are significant ... the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance,” Hinkson wrote in his decision.

The three churches – Riverside Calvary Chapel, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack – have said they plan to appeal the decision and have continued to meet in person regularly throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, several other churches abided by the public health orders. In downtown Vancouver, Westside Church held services outdoors, physically distanced and with a maximum of 50 people in attendance, as allowed under provincial guidelines on worship at this time in the pandemic.

The Homer Street church lined people up along the sidewalk in front of the building with a small group performing live music before a pastor gave a sermon and the congregation was offered communion.

“We made a decision to come outside just a few days ago. So, we had to do it kind of last minute when the restrictions changed,” said Pastor Matthew Menzel. “But we’re happy to be outside if we can make it work.”

He said many in the congregation were looking forward to gathering together indoors for Easter services, but were willing to abide by the rules.

“We want to do the best we can to serve the community. We love Vancouver. We want to serve the city,” said Menzel. “We want to serve the downtown core. If that means we need to protect people by keeping our distance a little bit, we’ll continue to do that as best we can.”