St. James Catholic Church in Vernon was empty on Christmas Eve Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020, in line with restrictions on religious gatherings amid COVID-19. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

LETTER: Worship ‘essential’ but not a ‘service’

Open letter to Vernon mayor:

Re: Coun. Scott Anderson’s criticism of Mayor Victor Cumming over the issue of exempting in-person worship from current restrictions on gatherings.

I can understand the outlook of city councillors Fehr, Gares, Mund and Anderson.

It does seem peculiar in our current emergency to deem it legal for people to go to places to eat, drink and buy things, but not to gather in places of worship.

As a Sunday school teacher, I’ve long tried to get kids to take the nourishment of the spirit at least as seriously as their other appetites. These comparisons come apart, however, when we confront the duty of people of every faith that I know of to deeply love one’s neighbours, every bit as much as we love ourselves, or even more so.

During a pandemic, an excellent way to do that is to stay well away from others, despite the emotional and spiritual pain that causes.

It is a paradox – we have to hold in our minds two seemingly contradictory notions.

In fact, I am very worried that my church will suffer great harm from our observance of social distancing rules. Although these rules do not prevent us from continuing many of our ministries, I think that many people, especially young ones, will get the message that “church is not essential to our lives.”

When I consider the harm that could result from us gathering for worship – the loss of congregates to the virus, for sure, but also the example we would set of meeting our personal needs, rather than those of others – I am convinced that we are doing the right thing.

Yes, worship to me is “essential,” but it is not a “service,” like a bar, restaurant or grocery store. I don’t go to church to get “served.”

I go to assert that I am a servant of God, with all the joys and burdens that entails.

During a pandemic, we are called to do that elsewhere and by other means, rather than in ways that, as much as I love and need them, will seriously endanger the health of others.

Don McNair