Vice-president of the Muslim Community of Edmonton Mosque Jamal Osman, front, and Imam Sherif El Sayed pose in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press).

Vice-president of the Muslim Community of Edmonton Mosque Jamal Osman, front, and Imam Sherif El Sayed pose in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press).

‘Caring for others:’ Mosque, synagogue advise Alberta church to follow COVID-19 rules

While they sympathize with GraceLife Church’s desire to bring worshippers together, they are asking its pastor and congregants to trust public-health rules

Leaders with a mosque and a synagogue in Edmonton have a message for an area Christian church that has been routinely holding services that violate COVID-19 restrictions.

While they sympathize with GraceLife Church’s desire to bring worshippers together, they are asking its pastor and congregants to trust Alberta’s public-health rules.

“I would encourage (GraceLife) to just consider, contemplate and reflect upon what God would want them to do in terms of caring for others, especially vulnerable Albertans,” says Jamal Osman, vice-president of the Muslim Community of Edmonton Mosque.

The province and Alberta Health Services are not stopping those at GraceLife from practising their faith, he says.

“They’re just saying, ‘make sure there is social distancing”’.

Before the pandemic, up to 300 Muslims squeezed into the mosque for a service every Friday, which is a sacred day of worship in Islam, Osman says.

Muslims typically pray standing shoulder-to-shoulder, he adds. Letting go of years of communal practice was difficult when COVID-19 hit, but the community understood.

“It’s not our place to agree or disagree with another faith group and what they choose to do. I would just encourage (GraceLife) to consider the health and safety of everybody else.”

Zolly Claman, a rabbi at Edmonton’s Beth Israel Synagogue, lost his father-in-law to the virus early in the pandemic.

He says gathering is of the utmost importance in Judaism, and it’s a struggle to keep up with religious practice while working with public-health guidelines.

“But COVID-19 regulations are designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and they definitely need to be followed.”

GraceLife Church in Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton, along with its pastor, James Coates, are to appear in court in May. They are charged with violating measures under the Public Health Act related to capacity limits, physical distancing and masking.

Coates was recently released from jail after 35 days, after he breached a bail condition to stop holding services that did not follow regulations. He pleaded guilty and was fined $1,500.

But the church hasn’t stopped holding services in numbers that health officials have said are over the province’s gathering limit.

On March 28, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services said the church denied entry to health inspectors, who again noted breaches of COVID-19 rules.

GraceLife’s website says it is to hold another service tomorrow on Easter Sunday.

RCMP, health and justice officials said public-health enforcement is under the discretion of local officers and health inspectors.

AHS said it is considering further enforcement options and hoped to schedule a meeting with GraceLife and its pastor before Easter. However, a church spokeswoman said no meeting was set.

The press secretary for Health Minister Tyler Shandro said it’s a complex situation.

“Generally we defer questions on specific enforcement actions to AHS as we don’t dictate practice in any individual instance,” Steve Buick said in an email.

AHS said there have been no reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at the church and individual cases cannot be disclosed. However, in a video of a July service posted on the church’s YouTube page, a speaker says “we have done in-house contact tracing for those of you who tested positive.”

Claman and Osman say no members of their faith communities have contracted COVID-19 at their synagogue or mosque, because regulations are strictly enforced.

As active members in their communities, Osman and Claman confidently say they haven’t heard of any outbreaks at mosques or synagogues across the province.

“You’re never going to benefit from breaking regulations,” says Claman.

“They’re there to help.”

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Black Press files)
Chief Civilian Director Ronald J. McDonald, QC reviewed the evidence and determined reasonable grounds exist to believe in officer may have committed offenses. (Black Press files)
Crown considering charges against Williams Lake Mountie after high-speed pursuit: police watchdog

IIO says the man, who was arrested, sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries from the incident

An RCMP cruiser flashes its light as it speeds up Highway 97. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Officers suffer minor injuries after a fight with a prohibited driver

The 44-year-old man resisted arrest and shoved an officer to the ground

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

Ken Jensen is launching a campaign to keep access to his audio library books. (Photo submitted).
White Cane Club president lobbies to preserve audio book access

Ken Jensen is urging others to send letters to federal government to preserve funding for CELA.

Sarah Smith is a bereavement worker with 100 Mile Hospice. (Kelly Sinoski - 100 Mile Free Press).
‘Grief never goes away’: Hospice seeks to add programs

Growing demand for bereavement services in the South Cariboo region.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

A large illuminated heart was installed on the roof of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital May 1, 2020. (VJH Foundation photo)
Three deaths linked to COVID-19 outbreak in Vernon hospital

Interior Health reports two additional deaths at VJH

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Most Read