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Pastor James CoatesGraceLife Church of Edmonton / YouTube

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EDMONTON, Alberta, March 31, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – With a heavy police presence outside his church last Sunday, Canadian Pastor James Coates was welcomed with applause and cheers before giving an emotional address to his congregation — his first since being released from prison.

“Many of you already [know this], but I am a fallen and imperfect man. But I have a mighty savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And he is the king of kings and Lord of Lords. It’s such a blessing to be here with you today,” said Coates, pastor of Grace Life Church in Spruce Grove, Alberta. “I’m so thankful for all of the love and support that you’ve shown to me, to my family. I’m so thankful for just our leadership, for the courage they’ve shown.”

Coates thanked the other pastors of GraceLife, his family and sons, as well as everyone else who “stood” with him and spoke out against his jailing.

“[I’m] just immensely humbled by the men in this country that have stood with us, stood with me, supported me, preached sermons that were supportive and expressed love and affection, so thankful for you, the congregation, who have written to me. Your letters were incredibly encouraging to me and strengthened me and served me so immensely well,” said Coates.

He said he was “incredibly overwhelmed” to be back, adding he still doesn’t “understand the fullness of what’s happened.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around everything … I’m trying to bear back up under the responsibilities of pastoral ministry and all that that demands of me. And so, you can just know that I’m overwhelmed. But I’m immensely grateful, I am immensely thankful to the Lord, to you, I love you and I’ve missed you dearly and I’m excited to be back. I’m excited to hug you and embrace you and express my love and affection to you in a personal way.”

Coates was jailed from February 16 until March 22 for defying COVID-related orders in Alberta. He refused to agree to bail conditions which blocked his release unless he agreed to not hold church services amid severe lockdowns.

Last Sunday, Coates said his act to refuse the bail conditions was done out of “obedience” to God.

“This all to the Lord, it’s amazing to me, how one act of obedience in a little wee RCMP office in little wee Spruce Grove could have the impact that it did. I couldn’t sign that condition. And the rest is history,” said Coates.

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) lawyer Jay Cameron, who represents Coates, told LifeSiteNews that the “Constitution is not suspended simply because of COVID, it remains in full force and effect, and the government of Alberta has yet to justify its lockdown measures, all of which are subject to a constitutional challenge.”

JCCF president John Carpay told LifeSiteNews last week that it was through back-and-forth negotiations with the Crown prosecutor that an agreement was made to get Coates out of jail, without him having to promise to abide by “unscientific and unconstitutional health orders” which “violate” his freedom of conscience and religion.

A GoFundMe campaign for Coates has now raised over $45,000 — way more than the $5,000 initially envisioned — from more than 400 individual donors.

Heavy police presence on site for Coates’ first time back at his church

No doubt in anticipation of Coates’ return, local Spruce Grove area RCMP and Alberta Health Services (AHS) inspectors were on site at Grace Life Church on Sunday.

According to Rebel News reporter Sheila Gunn Reid, two officers tried to enter the church but were stopped by church elders.

“Pastor Coates in on the pulpit fresh off 35 days in jail. RCMP and AHS just tried to enter[.] GraceLife Church elders would not let them come into the church. Exciting Palm Sunday so far,” Reid tweeted.

Section 176(2) of the “Criminal Code of Canada” bans interruptimg or disturbing a religious worship service.

“As services began, two local RCMP officers and an Alberta Health Services inspector demanded entry to the church, something church elders argued would violate section 176(2) of the Criminal Code, which prohibits interrupting a religious services,” wrote Gunn Reid. “A tense exchange between the two sides lasted approximately 20 minutes before police and inspectors left to monitor the service from off-site, after being denied access to the church.”

A partial transcript of a video taken by Reid during the altercation shows one church elder stating, “So I guess, though, by you guys going inside you would be saying that you’re … guilty of interrupting a worship service.” An officer replied, “No, I’m not saying that.”

A church elder then went on to say, “That’s why we can’t let you in, then, because the code 176 makes it illegal for you to interrupt a worship service, and our worship service has begun, and we’re stating that to you very clearly, that your presence in this building will be interrupting our worship service.”

One officer asked, “How so?” The Elder replied, “Because your presence intimidates our people.”

“That's your perception,” countered the police officer.

Not everyone was thrilled Coates was back at the pulpit Sunday.

The former socialist Premier of Alberta, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, called for Grace Life Church to be “shut down.”

“Enough is enough. GraceLife must be shut down,” Notley tweeted.

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.

Recently, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s provincial government allowed retail businesses an increase in occupancy limits, but offered no such increase to churches, which remain capped at 15 percent.