A religious leader in Oliver, B.C., said fear he’d lose his son to COVID-19 and the reality of the virus circulating in the community gave him unique insight into the peril caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Ken Clarke has been the pastor at the Valley Congregational Christian Church for the past 14 years and he’s issuing an emphatic plea to worshippers to follow public health orders.
The church pivoted to offering online Sunday worship in mid-November to comply with a public health order banning mass gatherings in an effort to reduce COVID-19 infection rates.
“We feel like we have a responsibility within our community and to our own people as well to protect them,” he told Global News on Sunday.
Small towns like Oliver are not immune to the virus.
The village is home to the B.C. Interior’s deadliest long-term care outbreak: 17 residents have died at McKinney Place and there’s been one death at Sunnybank long-term care.
“It had an impact on the people of our church. We have had two of our members die of complications from COVID-19 just this past week,” Clarke said.
“I stood with a family at the graveside of one of our long-term care residents who died with complications from COVID-19 so I do believe that flavours the way in which we choose to respond to these public health orders.”
While the four walls offer a sacred space to his sixty parishioners, he said, their religion can be practiced at home for now.
“This order is not in any way telling us that we can’t practice our faith, it’s not in any way oppressing us as a church, it is just asking for our co-operation during a time of public health crisis,” he said.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has hit close to home for Clarke. His wife, daughter, and son all work in the healthcare field.
“Every time they go to work they are putting their lives on the line,” he said.
His son, Scott, contracted the virus in March.
“To be honest with you, it was an awful experience, that first night when Scott was in the hospital, he went from being unwell at work to not being able to breathe, to being in the hospital in a very short period of time,” Clarke said.
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“We honestly feared for our son’s life that night. He spent four days in the hospital and several weeks recovering from COVID. Our four-week-old Grandson tested positive for COVID, had some mild symptoms, fortunately, they are both well now.”
Scott Clarke said it was a worrying experience.
“They could have intubated, put me on a vent, so that the fact that I didn’t get that far took a little bit of the worry out of my mind, but, still certainly very scary not being able to breathe on your own,” he said.
In May of that year, he got a job as a nurse in the COVID-19 ward Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital.
Father and son are issuing an impassioned plea to worshipers not the gather.
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“One of the most loving, caring, and compassionate ways we can protect one another and our communities right now is to not gather in large groups,” pastor Clarke said.
“We want to do everything we can to keep our families and people in our communities safe.”
He also thanked South Okanagan residents for their sacrifice.
“There will come a time when this is behind us, and we will be stronger because of that, so let’s keep doing the right thing do what we need to do right now to protect one another,” he said,
Meanwhile, Kelowna Harvest Fellowship pastor Heather Lucier said her congregation will continue to gather in-person on Sundays to worship and has vowed to fight fines in court.
Vernon city council has also supported a motion asking the provincial government to deem church an essential service and re-open them.