The pastor of a Nova Scotia church that hosted an event linked to a COVID-19 rise and three deaths told his parishioners this week that what happened is “unfortunate”, but it is all a part of God’s plan.
Robert Smith, pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst, NS, held his first personal worship service in three weeks Sunday and livestreamed video of his sermon on Facebook. The video was later taken down.
In late October, Smith’s Church hosted a multi-day gathering of faith groups from across the province. Public health officials have said more than 100 people attended and were not asked to show evidence of vaccination – a breach of public health orders.
“I followed what God wanted us to do,” Smith said from the pulpit. “We had a great week of meetings… a young lady was rescued.”
Three people have died in the past week of COVID-19 – one at a group home in Amherst and two at a long-term care home in Pugwash, NS – and the province has said these cases are traced back to the Gospel Light event.
Community outreach in Nova Scotia’s northern and western health zones is “primarily associated” with that event, according to the province.
Increase in admissions, intensive care units
The number of admissions and people on intensive care with COVID-19 has jumped in recent days, which prompted Prime Minister Tim Houston to say Monday that he was “very upset and worried.”
Smith equated the response his church has received to persecution.
Several times during his 30-minute sermon, Smith said that people are trying to shame his community, but he urged his parishioners to resist internalizing the feeling, saying that it is Satan, “trying to pull us down. “
“The Bible says ‘all things work together for good’. Hi, some of the things people we know are in hospitals and stuff like that still apply,” he said.
Smith has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.
Nova Scotia Public Health officials have previously said that about 70 percent of the religious community that attended last month’s event was fully vaccinated and that the community has been cooperative in contact detection and testing.
Evidence of vaccination is not required at regular religious services, such as Gospel Lights Sunday services, but is required at all other events organized by faith groups, such as Gospel Lights “Meeting Week.”
Masking is mandatory at services.
As of Monday, Amherst police had not filed any charges.
Da Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer, first reported the incident and its spread nearly two weeks ago, saying he planned to contact faith leaders across the province to make sure they understood the rules of vaccination and masking. .
‘They did everything they could have done’
Brandon Lake, pastor of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Bridgetown, NS, said he and about 20 of his congregations attended the Gospel Lights event.
“The pastor and the church that organized the event, they did everything they could have done,” Lake said in an interview. “We operated within the guidelines available to the public.”
He said public health did not make the rules around evidence of vaccination requirements clear until after the rally.
“Meetings like this are things that we do on a fairly regular basis, so we were incomprehensible about what we had read or downloaded on [provincial government’s] website that proof of vaccination was required for an event like this, “said Lake, who declined to talk about his own vaccination status or that of his congregations.
These rules state that proof of vaccination is not required for faith events, but is for “indoor and outdoor festivals, special events, and arts and cultural events,” such as the Gospel Light Collection.
Lake said he believes faith groups have been unfairly targeted in the media as contributors to the spread of COVID-19. He also challenged the reported number of people attending the gathering, saying there were never more than 100 people.
Asked about the three deaths that have been linked to the event, Lake said he was aware that deaths had been announced but denied the connection.
“I do not think it is fair to say that they are a result of the faith-gathering, but rather as a result of giving more freedom to people who are double-vaccinated who can still be carriers of the virus,” Lake said.