A pastor who attended a faith gathering that has been linked by health officials to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a seniors home in northern Nova Scotia says he believes organizers followed the rules as they understood them.
In an interview Tuesday, Brandon Lake, pastor of Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Bridgetown, N.S., said he and about 20 members of his congregation were at the October event hosted by Gospel Light Baptist Church of Amherst, N.S.
That multi-day religious gathering was attended by “less than 100 people,” Lake said, adding that organizers believed they were following the government’s COVID-19 guidelines.
He said it was “unclear” at the time whether participants at faith gatherings were required to show proof of vaccination. The province’s health authorities, meanwhile, have said the organizers of the October event did not require attendees to show vaccination proof.
Nova Scotia’s current COVID-19 health orders include a requirement for proof of vaccination for indoor and outdoor festivals and for events involving arts and culture. Proof of vaccination is not required for regular religious services.
Health officials have linked the faith gathering to an outbreak involving two deaths and at least 39 cases — 29 among residents and 10 among staff — at the East Cumberland Lodge seniors home in Pugwash, N.S.
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Thirty-one new COVID-19 cases were reported in Nova Scotia Tuesday, including three more at the East Cumberland Lodge. Health officials on Monday reported the COVID-19-related deaths of two residents in their 80s.
Lake said the outbreak linked to the gathering was an “unfortunate thing that happened,” adding that the number of people who attended was smaller than the number of attendees for regular Sunday church services across the province.
“It can happen anywhere,” he said. “It certainly sobered me because we’ve been relatively untouched by (COVID-19) here in this area, and it sobers me as to how quickly it can spread.”
Meanwhile, the organizer of the faith gathering, Gospel Light Baptist Church pastor Robert Smith, was heard in a recording of his church sermon last Sunday describing what happened as “unfortunate.”
“This whole event has been hard, there’s no doubt about that,” Smith said in the video posted to Facebook. “It’s been hard on me, not just emotionally, but physically. But we still have to glorify God — it’s a choice each of us have to make.”
Smith added that while there are people trying to “shame us,” it doesn’t mean “we have to be ashamed.” He asked the congregation whether their phones had been ringing off the hook by news agencies, saying “mine has.”
“People are trying to shame us, but I will never be ashamed of what I do for Christ. Is the thing unfortunate? Yes, but I’m not ashamed because I did what I’m 110 per cent sure Christ wanted me to do.”
That Facebook post, which could be seen on Tuesday, has since been taken down.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2021.