With the long, twisted, sickly, and decrepit arm of the law out in full force in Alberta, issuing fines and arresting pastors who dare to have open church services in defiance of the 15-person indoor maximum, or 5-person outdoor limit, GraceLife Church continues to meet in secret, worshipping their God and having services hidden away from the public view.
They are not the only ones. We are aware of at least 4 more congregations in Canada who have proactively chosen to meet in secret, taking the drastic steps before the fines get any worse or before they accrue more scrutiny or attention from the government.
For one church in Central to Eastern Canada that will remain nameless, already being subject to an undisclosed amount of dollars in fines, every Saturday evening congregants receive a text message from one of the three elders informing them where their location will be for the service the next day. Though this church uses basic SMS, we are aware of another congregation whose pastor encouraged all members to install Telegram on their phones, in order to give them better end-to-end encryption while planning their meet-up.
The church has accrued a list of 5 different locations where they are able to meet. Being fairly rural, most of the locations are either farms of members or acreages of friends of members that are sympathetic to the cause. These locations range from about 12 miles away, all the way to 80 miles (130km) though they have not yet had to use that furthest site. The sites are all private and their preferred location requires congregants to travel down gravel roads to get there, ensuring that the 30 or so vehicles that make the trek cannot be seen by neighbors once they turn off the highway, being given coverage by the trees on both sides.
The locations are rotated through at random and are all outside, save one that is inside a barn and is only used if it is raining or on account of inclement weather. Everyone turns off their phones as soon as they leave their home, out of an overabundance of caution.
The church has eschewed instruments and has taken to singing acapella instead, rather than have to run power to their location. They take communion every week, and the pastor raises his voice to preach – the congregation is small enough so as not to require amplification. Everyone sits on lawn chairs or spread blankets out on the ground, where babies flail on their bellies and toddlers will color or crawl around between people, the sermon punctuated by the sound of slapping as mosquitoes flitter around.
The church says they will not gather back at their location until the prosecution eases up and they can gather at 75% building capacity without being harassed, fined, or thrown in jail.
Turning back to GraceLife church, we imagine that they have similar contingencies in place.
That church has been meeting now for the last six weeks in secret, with their last service at their property being April 4, 2021. They have at least two different locations between which they alternate, according to hints from the video, and have taken steps to mitigate discovery that we are not at liberty to mention here, but which warms the cockles of our hearts.
Once the site of hundreds of protesters, the old chained-up church sits empty, with security guards still monitoring the property lest the congregants break in and gather for an illegal service in their absence.
Before, a media maelstrom was upon them, but now, they haven’t been mentioned in the news in over a month, even as the government of Alberta has stepped up their pressure and policing of wayward churches who wish to meet. The province has doubled the fines from $1000 to $2000 and announced they are partnering with several agencies, including Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, AHS, OHS, and provincial prosecutors to target repeat offenders and those who are refusing to bend the knee to Ceasar.
GraceLife continues to upload videos of their services, still drawing hundreds of parishioners, but they are markedly different now. Gone is the inclusion of worship in their videos, showing which musicians are on stage singing. There are no more tracking shots of the congregants worshipping – something that was a mainstay in previous months, or images of them listening intently to the sermon. Now, their content only features Pastors James Coates or Jacob Spenst in front of a non-descript grey background, the camera cropped to remove any trace of location hints or giveaways.
Last year they were averaging 350-400 viewers person sermon video watched. Now, the last five videos have 14K, 9K, 8.2K, 13K, and 107K views.
Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson, the mouthpiece of the chief prosecutor of churches Dr. Dina Hinshaw, told the Edmonton Journal that she’s well aware that the underground Chruch of GraceLife is having services and posting videos of their sermons, but doesn’t have the ability to enforce health measures, noting:
AHS Environmental Public Health can only investigate if we have an address or location. We currently do not have that.
We are glad you don’t have it, and we hope you never will.
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