Clergy representing 23 churches in Steinbach have signed an open letter showing support for local healthcare workers and public health orders due to the pandemic.

The letter, sponsored by the local ministerial, references verses in the book of Romans in the Bible calling on Christians to obey governing authorities "whenever the laws of the land do not cause us to disobey God."

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.

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 Bretheren 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

It goes on to say 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."

Any limits on public freedom, it adds, "are for the greater good of our society."

While acknowledging the restrictions will hurt many, including small business owners and those who lose jobs, the signers of the letter "recognize 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."

The letter concludes by saying "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."

Churches represented by the letter include Mennonites, United Church, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and non-denominational.

For Andrew Dyck, vice-chair of the ministerial and pastor of Stony Brook Fellowship, which belongs the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, issuing the letter is also important because of the "tie-in to faith" from the anti-mask rally in Steinbach a week ago.

"We want to show where the majority of churches in the city stand" on the issue of masks and following other provincially mandated health guidelines, he said, adding "we want to show the community and the province that faith support for the rally was from a minority of people from the community."

Walter Fast, lead pastor at the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church and chair of the ministerial, said the letter was important to show the anti-mask rally "didn’t represent" who the Steinbach faith community is.

It was also important to show local healthcare workers the faith community is behind their efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

"I felt it was time for us as pastors to add our voices of support," Fast said.

Darrell Dyck is pastor of Gospel Fellowship Church, part of the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, and treasurer for the ministerial. He feels bad about the way Steinbach and its churches have been portrayed across Canada due to the anti-mask rally; for him the letter shows "a lot of people don’t feel that way."

"It’s important for the public to hear from us as pastors," he said, adding "It was time for us to step up" to counter the "really harmful" message from the rally.

All three pastors have people in their congregations who disagree with the mask mandate.

"Steinbach is just like other towns and cities in the country," said Darrell Dyck, noting there are a few in his church who disagree with current health guidelines and restrictions.

But if some "think less of me because of signing the letter, I’m OK with that," he said.

Added Fast: "Some people in my church are anti-mask, not many. But I still feel the need to be very clear. If there is pushback, I have a thick skin."

All three clergy also have frontline healthcare workers in their congregations.

Doctors in the community are "hurting," said Darrell Dyck. "We want the medical community to know churches in the community support them."

For Andrew Dyck, "talking to them [healthcare workers] gives me a small glimpse into this really dire time for them. We want to do our part to not add to their strain, to show our care and support for them."

Plus, he adds, following health guidelines and mandates at a time when the transmission rate in Steinbach is 40 per cent "isn’t just a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of life and death."

faith@freepress.mb.ca

John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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