Coronavirus: Steinbach churches call on Christians to abide by public health orders

WATCH: Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the 10-day COVID-19 test positivity rate in Steinbach is 40 per cent, compared to the Winnipeg region’s rate of 13.7 per cent as of Friday.

As COVID-19 cases surge, Steinbach area churches are asking Christians to love thy neighbour and follow public health orders.

A group of 23 area churches signed an open letter asking their congregations to listen to health professionals.

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“The Manitoba government has allowed faith communities to continue to meet and minister where possible. For this we are grateful. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, we as churches have sought to follow the guidelines the province has given us and have encouraged our parishioners to do the same,” the letter reads.

Walter Fast is the lead pastor of the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church and chairman of the Steinbach & Area Ministerial Association.

He says while he understands there’s frustration with the restrictions, he’s heartbroken to lose community members.

“I as a pastor have lost two of my congregants to COVID in the last 10 days. Our heart aches for not being able to engage in in-person pastoral care at a time like this. It’s hugely difficult, painful and almost cruel. We as churches in the area, by and large, are supportive of what the government is doing even if we might disagree with some of the details and get frustrated as everyone else does.”

“We are doing our best to urge our congregants to be sober-minded and do the things that are right and are being expected of us at this time through provincial health authorities. We also ache as pastors for the lack of in-person pastoral care — you have no idea how hard it is to get prepared in a week’s time for a graveside funeral with five people.”

Last weekend, hundreds of anti-mask protestors flocked to Steinbach for a rally.

While the mayor of Steinbach has said most of the attendees weren’t from the area, having the event in Steinbach was frustrating for some of the faith-leaders.

“We decry what happened last weekend. The purpose, the content, the spirit of it. This is our way of following up the doctors who have challenged us to abide by the public health orders and to say these churches are on board — most of the churches, 23 churches in this case. We want the premier, health minister and others, like health professionals especially, to know we stand behind them,” Fast said.

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“We are urged as Christians to abide by the laws put in place by government authorities, in as much as they don’t go against the practicing of our Christian faith, which isn’t the case in this current pandemic.”

Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday the 10-day COVID-19 test positivity rate in Steinbach is 40 per cent.

See the full letter below.

Open Letter from Steinbach and Area Pastors & Churches:

This past week our local doctors and provincial leaders pleaded with the public to follow the public health orders. As pastors and leaders of churches of Steinbach and Area we want to make it clear that we support them in this call.

Since Jesus is our Lord (King) our first allegiance belongs to Him. However, obeying governing authorities whenever the laws of the land do not cause us to disobey God is also every Christian’s duty (Romans 13:1-7). We believe that Manitoba’s current public health orders in no way contravene our ability to obey and worship God. They are not anti-faith; they are pro-life.

The Manitoba government has allowed faith communities to continue to meet and minister where possible. For this we are grateful. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, we as churches have sought to follow the guidelines the province has given us and have encouraged our parishioners to do the same. As a result, we have moved our services and ministries online.

Do the current public health orders limit our freedom? Yes, but they do so for the greater good of our society (Romans 14:6). In no way are we pretending these regulations are perfect. We hurt for the many small business owners and those in our community who have lost jobs and the ability to earn a living. We also grieve with those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic. We recognize that our government leaders are having to make many difficult decisions that will help some people and bring hardship to others. We urge all citizens to pray for our government officials as they lead us through this difficult time.

We honour and appreciate the many sacrifices that our health care workers have had to make in order to look after the most vulnerable. The loving care that they are giving their patients is an inspiration to us all and we want to express our deep gratitude to them and ongoing support for them. We believe that the sacrifices asked of us at this time – mask-wearing and physical distancing, for example – pale in comparison to the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.

On behalf of our faith communities,
Steinbach & Area Ministerial Association (SAMA)

Signatories & Churches:
Rev. Dr. Walter Fast, Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church (Chair)
Pastor Andrew Dyck, Stony Brook Fellowship (Vice-Chair)
Pastor Darrell Dyck, Gospel Fellowship Church (Treasurer)
Pastor Robert Balfour, Calvary Church
Pastor Dylan Barkman, Pansy Chapel
Pastor Graham Beer, Word of Life Church
Fr. Edgardo M. Deligero, Christ Our Saviour Catholic Parish (Parochial Administrator)
Pastor Mac Dumcum, Christian Fellowship Church
Paul Duval, Minister, Steinbach United Church
Pastor Stan Friesen, Steinbach Christian Mennonite Church
Pastor David Funk, Niverville Community Church
Pastor Terry Gudmundson, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Pastor Lee Hiebert, Steinbach Mennonite Church
Pastor Ernie Koop, Evangelical Fellowship Church
Pastor Garry Koop, Steinbach Evangelical Mennonite Church
Pastor Mel Letkemann, Grace Mennonite Church
Pastor Barry Plett, Blumenort Community Church
Pastor Dave Reimer, Christian Mennonite Conference
Pastor Ron Taron, Steinbach Church of God
Leadership Team, Southland Church
Pastor Don Thiessen, Ridgewood Church
Pastor Cyndy Warkentin, Saturday Night Church
Pastor Andy Woodworth, Heartland Community Church

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