Vice-president of the Muslim Community of Edmonton Mosque Jamal Osman, front, and Imam Sherif El Sayed pose in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press).

Vice-president of the Muslim Community of Edmonton Mosque Jamal Osman, front, and Imam Sherif El Sayed pose in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press).

‘Caring for others:’ Mosque, synagogue advise Alberta church to follow COVID-19 rules

While they sympathize with GraceLife Church’s desire to bring worshippers together, they are asking its pastor and congregants to trust public-health rules

Leaders with a mosque and a synagogue in Edmonton have a message for an area Christian church that has been routinely holding services that violate COVID-19 restrictions.

While they sympathize with GraceLife Church’s desire to bring worshippers together, they are asking its pastor and congregants to trust Alberta’s public-health rules.

“I would encourage (GraceLife) to just consider, contemplate and reflect upon what God would want them to do in terms of caring for others, especially vulnerable Albertans,” says Jamal Osman, vice-president of the Muslim Community of Edmonton Mosque.

The province and Alberta Health Services are not stopping those at GraceLife from practising their faith, he says.

“They’re just saying, ‘make sure there is social distancing”’.

Before the pandemic, up to 300 Muslims squeezed into the mosque for a service every Friday, which is a sacred day of worship in Islam, Osman says.

Muslims typically pray standing shoulder-to-shoulder, he adds. Letting go of years of communal practice was difficult when COVID-19 hit, but the community understood.

“It’s not our place to agree or disagree with another faith group and what they choose to do. I would just encourage (GraceLife) to consider the health and safety of everybody else.”

Zolly Claman, a rabbi at Edmonton’s Beth Israel Synagogue, lost his father-in-law to the virus early in the pandemic.

He says gathering is of the utmost importance in Judaism, and it’s a struggle to keep up with religious practice while working with public-health guidelines.

“But COVID-19 regulations are designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and they definitely need to be followed.”

GraceLife Church in Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton, along with its pastor, James Coates, are to appear in court in May. They are charged with violating measures under the Public Health Act related to capacity limits, physical distancing and masking.

Coates was recently released from jail after 35 days, after he breached a bail condition to stop holding services that did not follow regulations. He pleaded guilty and was fined $1,500.

But the church hasn’t stopped holding services in numbers that health officials have said are over the province’s gathering limit.

On March 28, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services said the church denied entry to health inspectors, who again noted breaches of COVID-19 rules.

GraceLife’s website says it is to hold another service tomorrow on Easter Sunday.

RCMP, health and justice officials said public-health enforcement is under the discretion of local officers and health inspectors.

AHS said it is considering further enforcement options and hoped to schedule a meeting with GraceLife and its pastor before Easter. However, a church spokeswoman said no meeting was set.

The press secretary for Health Minister Tyler Shandro said it’s a complex situation.

“Generally we defer questions on specific enforcement actions to AHS as we don’t dictate practice in any individual instance,” Steve Buick said in an email.

AHS said there have been no reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at the church and individual cases cannot be disclosed. However, in a video of a July service posted on the church’s YouTube page, a speaker says “we have done in-house contact tracing for those of you who tested positive.”

Claman and Osman say no members of their faith communities have contracted COVID-19 at their synagogue or mosque, because regulations are strictly enforced.

As active members in their communities, Osman and Claman confidently say they haven’t heard of any outbreaks at mosques or synagogues across the province.

“You’re never going to benefit from breaking regulations,” says Claman.

“They’re there to help.”

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Vernon’s BX Elementary School. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Second COVID case confirmed at Vernon elementary school

Exposure at BX Elementary happened April 6 and 7

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

Salmon Arm Silverbacks defenceman Kieran Ruscheinski (right) sticks close to Vernon Vipers forward Logan Lorenz during Salmon Arm’s 2-1 overtime win in B.C. Hockey League pod play Saturday, April 10, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Mack attack paces Salmon Arm Silverbacks past Vernon

Sullivan Mack scores both goals, including beautiful OT winner, in Gorillas’ 2-1 BCHL pod play win over Snakes

Paddlewheel Park off Okanagan Landing Road, Vernon. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon council looks to address parking shortage at Paddlewheel Park

City staff are looking into short, medium and long-term overflow parking options

(GVMA)
WATCH: A Royal procession through Vernon, 1959

Prince Philip, who died April 9 at 99, visited Vernon on a tour of Canada in 1959

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read