Tiny Calgary church holds firm after onslaught of hate over its COVID restrictions

The pastor of a small southwest Calgary church is standing firm on COVID requirements despite facing a biblical tsunami of hate that filled the church voicemail inbox 'over and over and over again.'

Vitriolic voicemails fill inbox along with hundreds of emails, social media comments

John Van Sloten is the pastor at Marda Loop Church. His congregation put safety first when implementing a COVID policy, despite exemptions given to churches from the province, and there was pushback. A lot of it. (David Bell/CBC)

The pastor of a small southwest Calgary church is standing firm on COVID requirements despite facing a biblical tsunami of hate that filled the church voicemail inbox many times over.

When the global pandemic hit about two years ago, Pastor John Van Sloten of the Marda Loop Church decided to go beyond provincial COVID safety protocols, despite exemptions granted by the province, so that his congregation could have faith in a safe and healthy environment.

"People who come to our services have expressed gratitude that we have a policy in place where they know everyone in the space is as safe as they can be," Van Sloten told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

"But for some others, there have been a few, some people that I love a lot, who have chosen not to be vaccinated."

That weighs on him.

"Excluding others for any reason is hard on the heart."

But there is a third group of people whom Van Sloten has had to cope with.

"Much more vitriol from the larger, fringe Christian community, those who are holding on to conspiracy theories or the view that science is against God. Our voicemail filled up over and over and over again with people yelling and screaming at us. I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails and comments on social media calling us and me Satan, spawn of Satan," he explained.

"We are just a little church in Calgary in Marda Loop. I didn't know we'd draw that much attention," he said, trying to find a little humour in the situation.

Lori Williams is a policy studies associate professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. (Zoom)

And it's that third group, the extremists, that concerns a political scientist at Mount Royal University.

"They are giving the impression that they are more numerous than they actually are," Lori Williams, a policy studies associate professor, told CBC News in a video interview.

"And because their behaviour is being rewarded by publicity, fundraising and politicians appearing to want to concede to some of their concerns, there are significant incentives for their behaviour to continue."

Williams says the irony is that there are legitimate concerns swirling, but they get drowned out.

"I think there are legitimate questions that some people are asking about this," Williams said.

"The organizers of these protests include Pat King, Tamara Lich, people involved in the yellow vests, the carbon tax convoy that went across the country. They do not represent the majority of Canadians. Even if there is sympathy amongst many Canadians or Albertans to their general frustration, they are causing more frustration.

"If your concern is freedom of movement or supply-line interruptions, the protests are making all of these things worse. The protesters are restricting the freedom of people who might have had more sympathy were it not for the fact they are being so intransigent in their demands."

Meanwhile, Van Sloten says his church will continue to do the right thing for the safety of all worshipers.

"We want to love our neighbours. We want to follow the majority of civic-minded Calgarians and make the safest space possible," he said, adding a little patience goes a long way.

"This is not a big inconvenience for us to wear a mask a bit longer or to stay a little bit more socially distanced, just to make sure. If waiting a bit longer and making a bit more space and dealing with a bit more inconvenience for the sake of others is the cost we have to pay, then we will pay that readily."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


David Bell

Web Journalist

David Bell has been a professional, platform-agnostic journalist since he was the first graduate of Mount Royal University’s bachelor of communications in journalism program in 2009. His work regularly receives national exposure.


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