In the Canadian province of Alberta, church services are currently limited to 15 people in attendance according to the government, due to COVID-19. A growing number of pastors and churches in Alberta are drawing a line in the sand and declaring their churches open to all comers on Sundays. That civil disobedience just resulted in yet another arrest of a pastor, Tim Stephens, of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary.
According to the CBC, “Stephens has previously been fined and ticketed for defying public health regulations by holding over-capacity gatherings and not enforcing mask use or distancing requirements.
“Despite being served with a copy of the judge’s order, Stephens held a service on Sunday and was then arrested.”
And there were further harsh consequences, as the Calgary Herald reports: “‘Alberta Health Services’ Environmental Public Health has proceeded with further enforcement action at the Fairview Baptist Church in response to ongoing non-compliance with provincial public health orders from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health (CMOH),’ AHS said in a statement Monday.”
“As a result of this ongoing non-compliance, AHS has now issued a closure order.”
Pastor Stephens is now the fourth pastor of a Canadian church to be arrested for holding church services in violation of COVID restrictions. He has written his explanation as to why he feels his church must meet, and criticizes the government for exceeding its biblical authority.
“Two areas are explicitly identified as outside the state’s jurisdiction or authority,” Stephens said. Anything opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ and anything which violates the conscience. Restricting the church to 15 people—which essentially restricts the church from gathering—is against the will of Christ and against the conscience of many who desire to worship the Lord of glory according to his word.”
Stephens and his church are not alone in resisting the provincial government’s harsh restrictions. A movement called “Open Alberta Churches” lists over twenty churches who have agreed to open their doors on Sunday to all who want to enter. One of the churches listed, GraceLife Church, has already seen its pastor arrested and its building closed and fenced shut by authorities.
There’s also a national initiative in Canada to reopen churches, called Liberty Coalition Canada, that grew out of an effort to see churches reopened in the province of Ontario. Churches, businesspeople and community leaders across Canada are also signing on to The Niagara 2020 Declaration, which sets out the religious liberties that ought to be protected across all provinces.
Clearly, churches in Canada are suffering from onerous government restrictions that have essentially all but closed them to in-person worship. Please continue to pray for our Canadian brothers and sisters as they navigate the legal waters regarding government restrictions while trying to adhere to the biblical command to “meet together.” Hebrews 10:25 ESV.
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