Nothing drives home the importance of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution better than watching the effects of lesser religious freedom guarantees in western democracies such as Canada. Similar to the recent experience of GraceLife Church near Edmonton, Alberta, another Canadian church has been hit with fines and threats of more, plus jail time for its pastors and elders if they keep holding indoor worship services that exceed government edicts.
Trinity Bible Chapel is located in Waterloo, Ontario, about 80 miles west of Toronto. Its lead pastor is Jacob Reaume. In January, the church held a worship service with many more people in attendance than the 10 they were allowed by law. In fact, 13 people in that service gave their life to Christ and were baptized in following weeks.
However, the local government took a dim view of the church’s noncompliance with COVID-19 regulations restricting indoor attendance, and fined the church a total of 83,000 Canadian dollars (approximately $66,000 in U.S. currency), which included fines for three pastors, the church elders, and the church itself. A court also assessed damages for the legal fees incurred by the government in investigating and prosecuting the church. The church pled guilty and accepted the imposition of fines. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the church pay for those.
Then on Easter, the church gathered again. At that point, the local health officials had “eased” the attendance restrictions to allow Trinity 86 worshippers for what they wrongfully assumed was a 600-seat sanctuary. (The church alleges it can hold much more than that.) There were also government officials with binoculars posted outside who kept tabs on the numbers of people coming and going.
The church and its pastors were later issued summonses for those attendance limit violations and face up to a maximum of CA$30 million in fines, which translates to approximately $24 million in U.S. dollars.
Pastor Reaume explained in his blog on Trinity’s website what his church has been going through since Easter.
“On Thursday, one of Waterloo Region’s by-law officers visited our church to hand deliver two new summonses to appear in court. One summons is for Trinity Bible Chapel, and the other summons is for me. Our offence? We worshipped the risen Christ together on Resurrection Sunday,” Reaume wrote.
“This is the church’s third summons. Each summons to the church carries a maximum penalty of $10 million. This is my sixth summons. Each summons to me carries a maximum penalty of $100,000 and one year in jail. You can do the math.”
Pastor Reaume was curious about the government’s extreme interest in his church, and in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, he learned that over the past 10 months, over 6000 internal emails were generated and 144 documents created by the regional government that referenced him, the church, or activities at the church.
As is the case in Alberta with GraceLife Church, there is little to no COVID threat in Waterloo.
“More to the point on government numbers, as of the last time I checked we have 10 people in local ICUs with COVID-19. 535,154 persons live in this region. Ten are in an ICU with COVID-19. And according to our politicians that’s the reason we must reform our worship of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, on the Lord’s Day,” Reaume said.
No one at the church has died from COVID-19, according to Pastor Reaume.
So why does the church keep going in the face of massive government penalties and threats of jail time? The church is ministering to hurting people, Reaume notes, and the church’s mission remains the same.
“We do not place our ultimate hope in governments and their plans to keep us safe,” Reaume said. “Our hope is in Jesus Christ. He shed His blood to purchase forgiveness for sinners. Our greatest threat is not a virus that 99.937% of Canadians have not died from. Much rather our great threat is the sin in our hearts which leads to hell, an imminent danger to 100% of Canadians. Christ died for us sinners so we can have eternal abundant life. He owns us, and we are His joyful servants. He has forgiven us. We owe Him everything, especially His worship because He is worthy.”
Pray for Trinity Chapel, its pastors and members, during this difficult time. May God be glorified through their current situation and their ministry to the people of Waterloo.
Photo from Facebook