Baptists of Atlantic Canada distances itself from Amherst church linked to COVID-19 outbreak

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Baptist Church leaders speak out
Baptist Church leaders in Atlantic Canada say Robert Smith and the Gospel Light Baptist Church are not a member of the Baptist Atlantic Convention. Leaders say the churches have gone to great lengths to follow all public health protocols – Nov 17, 2021

Baptist church leaders in Atlantic Canada say Amherst pastor Robert Smith and the Gospel Light Baptist church are not a member of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (CBAC) and are in an independent church group.

On Wednesday, Smith of Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst was fined $2,422 by the province for holding a faith-based gathering with upwards of 100 people from all parts of the province from Oct. 25 to 29, which the province confirmed has led to community spread of the virus in the Northern and Western health zones.

The province also confirmed the faith gathering has been linked to three deaths, including two residents at the East Cumberland Lodge long-term care home in Pugwash. At last count, the home has had 31 residents and 10 staff members test positive for COVID-19.

Executive minister of CBAC Peter Reid confirmed Gospel Light Baptist Church is not a member of the Atlantic Baptist Convention.

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“(Gospel Light Baptist Church Amherst) is an independent Baptist church and not under our purview,” said Reid. “We have gone to great lengths to communicate with our 450 churches in Atlantic Canada, to adhere to all the Provincial Public Health guidelines. In fact, since the beginning of Covid, we have urged our Pastors and churches to show extreme caution and to stay one step ahead of public health in following protocols.”

When it comes to COVID-19 health guidelines, New Horizons Baptist Church pastor Rhonda Britton says the rules are clear for church organizations. They are also clearly laid out on the Atlantic Baptist Church Convention website.

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“We have to be careful and, of course, we have encouraged people to get vaccinated,” said Britton, the former president of CBAC.

“People have been following the guidelines and so we appreciate the sacrifices that people have been making so that we can all be safe,” said Britton, who confirmed she is fully vaccinated. “It doesn’t mean there haven’t been moans and groans but people as a majority have been following what public health is telling us to do.”

Nova Scotia’s proof-of-vaccine requirement came into effect on Oct. 4 and under the guidelines, weekly religious services are exempt from requiring proof of vaccine, but any church events that fall outside of the weekly service, like Bible study, youth group, community meals, fundraisers and any other activities require proof of vaccine.

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Privacy lawyer David Fraser says the gathering was unlawful in how it was carried out and says the church group failed to follow health guidelines and failed Nova Scotians, calling the gathering “negligent.”

“I think we also have a moral obligation to take care of the individuals in our province by following public health rules where they are reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances,” said Fraser. “I’d be interested to see whether or not there will be a lawsuit brought against this religious organization.”

CBAC stresses that Gospel Light Baptist and Smith are not affiliated with the organization.

“That church is an independent Baptist church and it’s not a part of our association or convention body,” said Britton. “They are independent and I guess they do as they please.”

Britton says no cases of COVID-19 have been associated with the more than 450 CBAC churches across the four Atlantic provinces and says it’s not fair to paint all Baptist churches with the same brush.

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“We haven’t heard of any churches in our association or Baptist convention that were not following the protocols,” said Britton.

When contacted, Amherst police couldn’t say if there was a criminal investigation into the church or not, but the province said it’s the police who are responsible for investigating any possible criminal aspects involved in the faith-based gathering.

“I am upset and concerned by this situation, which was preventable and shows a complete disregard for public health measures meant to keep us all safe,” said Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston.

“I hope Nova Scotians who are looking for loopholes or to disregard the Public Health Order will see this as an example of there being zero tolerance for this behaviour. Those who choose to disregard the law and put others at risk may be fined or possibly face other charges.”

Smith declined an interview request with Global News.

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