The Sunday after Canadian authorities placed a fence around GraceLife Church, about 400 people gathered to protest the church’s closure, sing hymns and hear the Bible read. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) blocked off road access to the church and lined the perimeter inside the fence, facing the crowd.
As reported by The Daily Citizen, GraceLife ran afoul of Alberta Health Services (AHS) for objecting to the province’s COVID-19 restrictions and holding in-person services. Last week, following packed Easter worship, a dozen police vehicles arrived and put up layers of fencing around the church, shutting it down.
The church is located in the town of Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton, Alberta. One group of supporters drove from Calgary, three hours away, while others reported driving even further to oppose the government’s actions.
One video shows a group walking toward the church, with a man carrying a cross and “Amazing Grace” coming from a loudspeaker – possibly this 1970 version from Judy Collins, rereleased during the coronavirus quarantine with 1,000 singers joining in from around the world. Even if this isn’t the same production, it’s still worth listening to “sweet Judy blue eyes” in this new arrangement.
Other videos show supporters singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Jesus Loves Me.” The Edmonton Journal reported that few of those in attendance were members of the church, which was presumed to be holding services at a different location. After several hours, some of the protestors started taking down portions of the fence, while others shouted, “Leave the fence alone.”
Later, some of the protestors helped police put back those sections of fencing. While different videos show dozens of RCMP officers, one account stated that “the police sent in 200 heavily-armed riot police.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Company gave a timeline of the church’s opposition to AHS rules, which led to the building of the fence. These include:
- An order issued by AHS on Dec. 17 requiring the church to comply with restrictions ordered by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
- A Court of Queen’s Bench order obtained Jan. 21 requiring the church to comply with the previous order.
- A closure order issued Jan. 29 requiring closure until compliance with the restrictions was attained.
- On March 27, AHS sent a letter to Coates providing him with information on the continued spread of COVID-19.
- Last week AHS invited Coates to meet virtually to discuss the risks presented by COVID-19, but the church has not provided any dates to meet.
In February, GraceLife Pastor James Coates was charged with violating lockdown orders and spent 35 days in jail, and the church was charged for exceeding the 15 percent allowable capacity at services.
In a public statement, the church explained that it had shifted to livestream worship early in the pandemic but returned to normal meetings in June, 2020. The church shut down in-person worship again for several weeks, after “two separate individuals had attended our gatherings on two consecutive Sundays and subsequently tested positive for the virus.” Since then, the church met for 28 Sundays with no incidents.
GraceLife said that “there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus” and stated:
What do we believe people should do? We believe they should responsibly return to their lives. Churches should open, businesses should open, families and friends should come together around meals, and people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back. In fact, some say we are on the cusp of reaching the point of no return. Protect the vulnerable, exercise reasonable precautions, but begin to live your lives again.
The church is joined by many others in Alberta who believe it’s time to reopen society. The same day as the protests at GraceLife, a couple hundred protestors gathered in a Calgary park to demonstrate against the reintroduction of health restrictions by the province’s government, reported CTV News.
Thousands of activists have met there for months and marched to city hall, upset with lockdown restrictions they say harm people’s lives and small businesses.
Screenshot from Twitter