News

Alberta church defies COVID rules to hold Sunday service in solidarity with jailed pastor

Church leader says they ‘cannot comply with rules that make what we essentially do as a church impossible.’
Thu Feb 25, 2021 - 10:45 am EST
Featured Image
Pastor Tim Stephens preaching on Feb. 21, 2021 Fairview Baptist Church / YouTube

CONTACT YOUR MP: Free Pastor Coates and protect people of faith! Contact your MP, here.

CALGARY, Alberta, February 25, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — In solidarity with Alberta Pastor James Coates who is in jail for preaching to his flock amid lockdowns, another faith leader defied COVID rules restricting service sizes with a service held last Sunday, saying we “cannot comply with rules” that make “what we essentially do as a church impossible.”

“We understand the dangers of COVID-19 but we also understand the dangers of policies that seek to reduce the spread of the virus. All must admit that the lockdowns and restrictions have been damaging,” said Tim Stephens, who serves as Senior Pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary in a press release sent out Sunday.

“We are not against all rules and health measures. However, we cannot comply with rules that make what we essentially do as a church impossible. And to be clear, it is … Jesus Christ, not civil government, that defines what is essential for the gathered church.”

Fairview Baptist had previously been cited with a total of seven violations by Alberta Health Services (AHS) inspectors in January. His church was fined $1,200. AHS claimed that Fairview Baptist was not observing rules around attendance size, and that most faithful were not wearing masks, which is mandated by the government.

This past Sunday, in defiance of Alberta COVID rules which limit church gatherings to 15 percent capacity, Fairview Baptist held a service — and vowed to continue to do so.

Last Sunday’s service drew the attention of AHS inspectors. According to a Rebel News report, they showed up at the church but left without issuing tickets after one of their reporters pressed them with questions.

The Rebel News report says that there were four officers who “surveilled the church from a distance for over an hour, while they considered if it would be worthwhile to issue tickets to the congregants and pastor.”

As for Stephens, he says he is a good friend of Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church, which is located in Spruce Grove, Alberta, close to Alberta’s capital city of Edmonton, about a three-hour drive north of Calgary.

“James is a good friend of mine and it’s sad what’s happened to him,” Stephens said according to a Global News report. “I’m prepared if that’s the same consequence for myself. I know other pastors feel the same way, that want to stand with him and support him and our brothers and sisters at GraceLife Church.”

On Sunday, February 14, Coates had held a church service in violation of a January 29 order by Alberta Health Services (AHS) demanding that the church doors remain shut.

Coates remains in prison, awaiting trial, after refusing to agree to bail conditions that he promise not to hold more church services that violate government COVID-19 restrictions.

Current Alberta COVID rules state that churches and other places of worship can operate at no more than 15 percent of the capacity allowed by the building fire code. Masks are mandatory, as are the sanitation of hands and keeping away from other people.

The current restrictions around church attendance could be relaxed as early as March 1, according to the Alberta Government.

Coates and GraceLife are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). Yesterday, a trial date for Coates were set from May 3 to 5, meaning he could still spend two more months behind bars.

However, JCCF lawyer James Kitchen told LifeSiteNews they plan to appeal his bail conditions in the hopes he can be freed before his trial date. “We’re appealing the release conditions, and if successful that condition will be removed, and then he will be at least able to leave without violating his conscience,” he said.

Kitchen added that he expects a decision on the appeal by next week, but can’t confirm if this will in fact happen.

CONTACT YOUR MP: Free Pastor Coates and protect people of faith! Contact your MP, here.

This past Saturday, Coates’ wife told a crowd gathered at the jail where her husband is being held that the best way to protest his incarceration is to “open your churches.”

At the protest, Erin Coates also encouraged the crowd to listen to her jailed husband’s last sermon.

Pastor Stephens: Lockdowns lead to increased “drug use, increased suicide, pornography”

In his Sunday press release, Stephens wrote that lockdowns have caused depression and mental health to decline, along with drug use.

“Behavioral issues due to isolation, increased drug use, increased suicide, pornography, economic devastation, small businesses lost, and many other hardships causes our hearts to break for the people suffering. We want to care for those vulnerable to lockdowns and restrictions along with those vulnerable to COVID-19,” wrote Stephens.

A recent poll conducted by Leger and commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) highlighted that depression and drug use has skyrocketed in Canada due to lockdowns.

Stephens went on to state that people have had their “God-given responsibility for their own livelihoods and health choices” stripped from their control.

“Many have been hindered from caring for themselves, their families, their aging parents, and their children due to government-imposed restrictions that have restricted the very freedoms the government has sworn to protect,” wrote Stephens.

He compared schools and their rules to those applied to churches: “We have no objection with these accommodations since the standard rules would prevent the school from doing what is essential for a student’s education. Should not this be the policy for every school, business, and church?”

“Whereas schools have experienced many outbreaks, churches have considerably less. Our own church, gathering freely since the end of May has had zero cases of COVID-19. We are not a threat to the public health anymore than schools are.”

Stephens noted a growing list of churches in Alberta, and other provinces, including some in the U.S., that are “standing together, united under The Church Must Gather statement.”

The Church Must Gather statement reads that “public worship is a non-negotiable principle.”

“Beyond science, and every natural reason we can give, we ultimately bow the knee and pledge our lives to King Jesus who is the Head of the Church and our only Sovereign,” reads the statement. “We the undersigned, believe that churches or believers must continue to gather in person for public worship with or without the permission of the civil authorities.”

The Church Must Gather statement is open for signatures for churches and individuals, and to date shows over a dozen churches in Alberta that have signed on.

LifeSiteNews asks its readers to take the time to defend the religious liberty of Canadians by filling out our VoterVoice Alert to free Pastor Coates.

Contact:

Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney

Office of the Premier
307 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 780-427-2251

To contact your local MLA, visit the link below.:

https://www.assembly.ab.ca/members/members-of-the-legislative-assembly


  covid-19, fairview baptist, james coates, lockdowns, religious freedom, tim stephens

Keep this news available to you and millions more

Your gift will spread truth, defeat lies, and save lives


Share this article