Parkland County’s GraceLife Church is expected to hold two large in-person services without public health measures this weekend, even as cases of COVID-19 caused by the more deadly and contagious variants continue rising in Alberta.
Health officials asked to meet with leadership from the church, located just west of Edmonton, this week prior to the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, but by Thursday that request had not been granted, said Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Williamson.
“We would still really like to meet with them,” Williamson said.
Packed parking lots at recent services show attendance has remained high despite AHS ordering the church to close and the pastor spending time behind bars for breaking health rules. Police were observed speaking with members of the church outside the service last Sunday but did not enter the building.
Easter Sunday and Good Friday are considered two of the most important celebrations in Christianity. Attendance on these holidays is normally much higher than other Sundays for many churches part of the faith.
Holding in-person religious services is allowed in Alberta, provided organizers follow public health rules meant to prevent the spread of the virus causing COVID-19, a disease that has killed nearly 2,000 people in Alberta.
Places of worship in Alberta must limit attendance in person to 15 per cent of fire code capacity, ensure attendees wear masks indoors, have hand sanitizer available, and make sure attendees stay at least two metres away from those not part of their household.
Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said earlier this week no outbreaks have been linked to the church, however, Alberta’s guidance on worship services updated March 9 says these types of gatherings can cause outbreaks.
“Faith-based group activities have been the setting of large COVID-19 outbreaks, and it is critical that leaders/organizers take responsibility for protecting their communities by following all COVID-19 precautions carefully,” the document reads.
GraceLife Church has had COVID-19 cases in the past, but Alberta Health this week declined to say how many cases were connected to the church or if anyone had died. A statement on the church’s website said there were two cases.