As Canada reels from the fourth wave of COVID-19, provinces have been implementing rules that require people to have proof of their vaccination status to enter certain businesses and other venues. While places of worship are commonly exempt from the mandates, some Anglican dioceses are requiring proof of vaccination for certain church activities, and many clergy and church volunteers will need to offer proof that they have been fully vaccinated.
The diocese of Toronto, for example, is requiring clergy, diocesan employees and volunteers, and parish employees and volunteers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
In a Sept. 14 pastoral letter, Bishop Andrew Asbil said the diocese continues to strongly encourage all those who are able to get vaccinated, and that congregations will continue with screening questions, mask mandates, contact tracing, physical distancing and sanitation measures. However, bishops and diocesan leaders have decided not to require proof of vaccination to attend worship in Anglican churches within the diocese.
“I’ve heard that some of you aren’t comfortable returning to in-person worship alongside potentially unvaccinated people, and I know this may disappoint you,” Asbil said in his open letter.
“We believe we can preserve the health and safety of our communities without denying access to worship, prayer and sacrament,” he added. “We want our churches to be places where everyone can experience the breadth and length and depth and height of God’s love, and we hesitate to bar our doors based on proof of vaccination.”
Also on Sept. 14, Diocese of New Westminster Bishop John Stephens strongly encouraged everyone eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated, and for those who have not been vaccinated to consider worshipping online.
While proof of vaccination will not be required to attend worship services, Stephens noted in an update that communities planning social events indoors and in-person without a worship component will need to have a vaccine passport check before people can enter. If churches rent out space for “purely social” events, vaccine passport checks will be required.
“Essentially, we are holding the course from my last pastoral letter (August 26), but I felt that it was important to clarify things, in light of the new communication from the PHO [Public Health Officer],” Stephens wrote.
The diocese of British Columbia is asking unvaccinated individuals above age 12 to participate in worship virtually in the coming months, except for outdoor worship, to which everyone is welcome. Proof of vaccination will be required for indoor gatherings of 50 or more people, but worship will be an exception and enforcement will effectively be based on the honour system, the diocese announced in a series of September updates.
“We will not be checking for proof of vaccination at the doors of Sunday worship and will trust folk to respect these restrictions,” said a Sept. 2 letter from Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee. “The same standards will apply to weddings and funeral services.”
For indoor gatherings of fewer than 50, the diocese is asking leaders to exercise their best judgement regarding enforcement.
Other dioceses have made requiring proof of vaccination optional for congregations.
In the diocese of Edmonton, Bishop Stephen London and Dean Alex Meek wrote in a Sept. 16 message to clergy: “Churches are not required to follow the restriction exemption [vaccine passport] program and we will not be instituting this program for worship services. However, if you would like to require proof of vaccination for volunteers working with others, you may do so.”
The diocese of Fredericton, in line with provincial guidelines, offered two options for worship services at Anglican churches effective midnight Sept. 24. Congregations could either require all participants to show full proof of vaccination and wear a mask at all times, in which cases no physical distancing or capacity limits would be required, and singing with a mask on was permitted; or they could forego full proof of vaccination, but require physical distancing, contacting tracing, a 50% limit on capacity and no congregational singing, among other requirements.
The Episcopal Church in the United States has seen some congregations require proof of vaccination at the door, such as St. Luke in the Fields Episcopal Church in New York.