Helping Churches Navigate Vaccine Requirements in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

 

New Brunswick

Updated October 4th, 2021

The NB Minister of Health shared the following message for faith-based leaders in an email late in the day on September 23rd:

Further to a recent conference call with faith leaders and individual follow-up conversations, I would like to take this moment to say that I understand the value of our faith communities and know you want to be a part of the solution and keep our greater communities safe.

Government has prepared a pair of safe options that should meet the needs of our faith communities.

  1. Proof of Vaccination

Should your place of worship require all participants to show full proof of vaccination, you must wear a mask at all times.

  • Social distancing is not required
  • No capacity issue
  • Singing while masked is permitted.
  1. No Proof of Vaccination

Should your place of worship forego full proof of vaccination, you must ensure:

  • Everyone masked at all times
  • Operate at 50% or less capacity
  • maintain two metres of physical distancing between different households. 
  • no congregational singing
  • record names of all attendees and contact information by row or have a consistent assigned seating plan for contact tracing; and;
  • prevent anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms or who has been instructed to self-isolate from entering.


Regardless of which option your place of worship selects, everyone will need to show proof of full vaccination whenever they access certain events, which includes weddings, funerals, parties, conferences and workshops.

In closing, I hope this communication provides clarity so we can ensure our faith and greater communities are safe.

Hon. Dorothy Shephard
Minister of Health

The Minister’s office has also stated that the policy is taking immediate effect.

Earlier in September we held a Zoom call for our New Brunswick church leaders. With this new directive from the government, much of the information that we offered in that call is now obselete.

What This Means for New Brunswick Churches

Recognizing that we’re experiencing a concerning wave of cases of COVID-19 all across the province, the tighter restrictions detailed in option #2 (see above) are based on the public health guidance we’ve been familiar with for months. We believe this demonstrates a level of flexibility on the part of the government, so we’re grateful for that.

These restrictions—with the exception of more specific contact tracing measures—were not officially acknowledged as an option until now.

The Dept. of Health has confirmed that the previous direction to survey congregations to validate that there is a 90% vaccination rate is now superseded by this new policy.

This also means that your church may need to change course again—and we realize how hard this is. Many of you have already decided on a plan, and all of are operating on limited information and official documents.

With that being said, once again there are more unanswered questions and our CBAC staff is reaching out for more clarity.

Our Action Plan

We continue to reach out to government to ask the key questions that have been most consistently asked by our churches.

Official documents are still expected to be released. Our expectation was that an FAQ and policy document would be available by today, but these aren’t available yet. We will continue to share what we receive or find.

Our Guidance

Weekly Worship Gatherings: Your church needs to make a decision for your course of action. We know the information is limited but the course of action should be determined.

Weekly Groups: This morning we reached out to the NB Department of Health to clarify what the policy is for these groups. They confirmed that there is no accommodation or alternative to the requirement of proof of vaccination for these groups; they fall under the indoor organized gatherings.

Youth Ministry: For your weekly worship gathering, your church’s decision (between the options given above) should apply for any youth gatherings that happen at the same time as the adult gathering. For weekly groups, the government regulations for organized indoor gatherings would apply—requiring proof of vaccination. However, outdoor groups could be a viable option as long as weather permits.

Children’s Ministry: For Sunday morning, once again your church’s decision (between the options given above) should also apply for any children’s gatherings that happen at the same time as the adult gathering.  For your midweek group, as long as your volunteers are fully vaccinated, you can go ahead with this group, under the government’s directive (ages 12+ need to be vaccinated) and for masks.

Funerals and Weddings: As stated before, we recommend your church make a plan for how you will handle these events. The policy for funerals and gatherings does apply to those events that are held in your facility, and the government sees the your church as being responsible for ensuring all attendees are fully vaccinated.

Please know that our staff continues to pray for you in this moment—a particularly strained one for many of us—and we want to support you as we move forward.

Nova Scotia

Updated October 14th, 2021

Nova Scotia’s policy for proof of vaccine is in effect as of October 4th, 2021. Under this policy, the following settings require proof of vaccine of all attendees (excerpt taken from NS Government’s website):

  • indoor and outdoor events and activities like receptions, social events, conferences and training that are hosted by a business or organization
  • indoor and outdoor wedding ceremonies and funerals (including receptions and visitation) that are hosted by a business or organization
  • community meetings in rental spaces or where the public may be present (like annual general meetings of businesses or organizations)

A faith service does not have to require proof of vaccine, but this is required for any events and activities hosted by the church, including social time after the service, bible study, youth group, community meals, or fundraisers.

As per the government website, proof of vaccine isn’t required by this policy for staff of businesses and organizations. Those organizations can create their own policies for this purpose. However, it does apply to volunteers.

If a church has a drop-in ministry that serves the vulnerable in the community, they do not have to ask for proof of vaccine for the clients who come.

Weddings (and their receptions) that take place at a church building are not exempt; attendees must show proof of vaccination.

As of October 14th, funerals (but not receptions or visitations) can choose not to require proof of vaccine as long as the following conditions are met:

  • a maximum of 25 persons attend (excluding officiant and funeral home staff)
  • all persons in attendance wear a mask, both indoors and outdoors
  • all persons (staff and attendees) who are unwell do not attend

Any business or organization that hosts a funeral service and does not adhere to the parameters listed above must require proof of vaccine from all attendees.

 

In an email to faith leaders on October 1st, NS Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang shared the following FAQs:

 

Q: What gatherings fall under “faith services”, which is the term used in the list of places that will not require proof of vaccine (POV) for attendees? What about the sub-groups of our congregations that would meet on a regular basis mid week, including youth groups, bible studies, etc.?

A: Any activities held by a faith organization other than a regular faith service (such as daily/weekly service) is subject to the proof of vaccine policy.  If it is a regular group with the same people then proof of vaccination can be obtained once and does not need to be done each time the group meets.  Any meetings, including organizational business meetings involving people who are not employed by the organization [i.e. workplace meetings are not included] is subject to proof of vaccination policy for in-person attendance.

 

Q: Does the term “informal gatherings in private residences” include a home-based bible study led by individuals from a church?

A: A home-based bible study would be an “informal gathering” so no proof of vaccination is required but the maximum number of people allowed is 25

 

Q: Do the rules for “faith services” apply to children’s ministry that happens at church on Sunday morning, or is there a different set of protocols?

A: Yes, they apply.

 

Q: Under phase five the gathering limits are lifted; is this true for all church gatherings as well? Or is it only true if everyone present is fully vaccinated?

A: The POV policy does not apply to faith services and for them gathering limits are lifted.  For other organized activities POV does apply and gathering limits are lifted.

 

Q: Are these guidelines for Churches in effect immediately on October 4, or is there bit of a grace period with which to implement them?

A: They are effective Oct. 4th