With the news that the province of Alberta has reintroduced new restrictions on public gatherings, ones that previously had been lifted back in late July, Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church and Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church are likely to face renewed persecution from Alberta Health Services for their continued refusal to follow those terms, including disregarding the rules for their September 19th service.
Both pastors were arrested and jailed for their refusal to bend the knee and deny in word and in deed that Christ is head of the church, and He decides what worship will look like, not the government. When restrictions were lifted several months ago it was hoped that this would be the last of the persecution, but presently does not appear to be so.
Along with creating a two-tiered system in the province (fully vaccinated Albertans are limited to socializing indoors with one other household, whereas unvaccinated people are not allowed to attend any indoor social gatherings at all), the province has mandated three restrictions on churches, despite initially exempting them in early September.
Chuches are not allowed to gather indoors at more than 30% of their fire code capacity.
Masks are mandatory to be worn in church.
Mandatory physical distancing between households for both indoor and outdoor services.
Failing to adhere to these will result in fines and could even result in more jail time. During the Sunday service, GraceLife Church did not abide by any of the new restrictions, having a service of nearly 700 people, mostly unmasked and without social distancing.
The Church has grown by leaps and bounds since they refused to shut down during the lockdown, nearly doubling their size and having dozens upon dozens of people going through with completing membership classes. On account of their size, they are moving to a second service, particularly as the weather turns cold and winter sets in, and their overflow tents become unfeasible, with temperatures frequently dropping to -22 Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius) and colder.
Before the service began, several neighbors passersby stopped and took pictures of the gathered body, with the likely intention to report them to the authorities – an act that will certainly prompt a visit by AHS at their next service.
Pastor Coates elaborated on a bit of this uncertainty during the service, explaining:
Good morning everyone. I want to welcome you to GraceLife Church and invite you to come in and find a seat as we prepare to worship our Lord and Savior together. What a blessing it is to gather, to sing the praises of our great God and King.
As you know, we opted to remain with a single service this week. And we did that primarily for two reasons. One, with the uncertainty of what to expect this Sunday, we thought it might be just nice to keep things predictable for all of you and make it a little more comfortable as it were to be here today.
And also, we’ve got a number of ministries that just aren’t quite yet ready to do double duty as it relates to two services and so we wanted to give them a little more time to work that out. Now, by this point, you know, the drill that we’re going to be taking things one week at a time. And so you have to just bear with us as we give thought and consideration to how to navigate the future.
But you need to know that we are committed to moving to two services, we really think that is necessary and beneficial for the health of our body and even to just improve what happens on a Sunday and the fellowship that takes place, and maybe even facilitating more fellowship because we’re gonna be able to stagger the number of folks that are here at one time, so we’re still committed to that. But obviously, whether or not it comes to fruition, is in the Lord’s hands and we’ll keep you abreast of that as things grow and develop.
As for Fairview, they are in a very similar boat, having also grown so much so that they have outgrown their church building and are meeting at another church in order to accommodate all the people, which they also did unmasked and without social distancing.
Pray for these pastors, and others like them who have the courage to stand.