WATERLOO, Ontario — All six of the elders and pastors of a church in Ontario, Canada received a summons to appear in court after they held in-person church services on Dec. 27 with more than 10 people. The elders, who have refused to temporarily stop services altogether yet have put social distancing and other protective measures in place, face possible fines up to $10K for exceeding the 10-person limit.
“We are peaceful family men seeking to pastorally care for our families and our church in sincere obedience to God. We are not criminals,” the men of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo said in a statement on Thursday.
According to reports, on Dec. 26, the province of Ontario initiated a lockdown, which, according to its website, limits “public events and social gatherings … to 10 people where physical distancing can be maintained.”
However, Trinity Bible Chapel pastor Jacob Reaume had already determined that the church was not going to forsake the assembly, writing in an open letter on Dec. 3, “Scripture commands us to meet for worship in person, that the definition of ‘church’ requires us to gather in person, and that the Law of God demands we gather at least weekly.”
He noted that a lockdown is not “the ‘least restrictive means'” to achieve the government interest, or a “minimal impairment,” as required by legal standard, and that the church therefore “respectfully advises that it must practice civil disobedience in the event of a government lockdown.”
As the church held services on Dec. 27, not with 10 people as per the lockdown but with the pre-lockdown 30% capacity limit, police observed from the parking lot and warned Reaume that he would likely be charged.
The same evening, officers with the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS) went to the homes of each church elder on the board and issued them all a summons to appear in court. They were charged with violating the Section 10.1 of the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA).
“While other pastors in Ontario have faced similar charges under the ROA for holding church services, to our knowledge this is the first time that each and every member of an entire elders board has been charged for gathering a church to worship,” the men said. “Although we know of officers within the WRPS who personally disagree with these charges, it appears the WRPS is trying to make an example of us.”
According to a GoFundMe page that was launched by one of the members of the church, each of the Trinity Bible Chapel elders may be fined up to $10,000. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has agreed to represent the church and will do so pro bono.
“Our Savior shed His blood to purchase the Church, and therefore deeming the Church ‘unessential’ is tantamount to deeming the blood of Christ unessential, which is a public act of blasphemy,” the elders said in a statement. “One day our elected officials, bureaucrats, and police will stand before the court of God’s justice for these acts. We earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit would draw them to his Son, Jesus Christ, who offers free grace and forgiveness to all who would repent and put their faith in him.”
The church is continuing to meet at 30% capacity during its 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services, with a risk mitigation strategy in place that includes the availability of hand sanitizer, blocking off seats to ensure social distancing, and the posting of signage regarding the Waterloo Region face covering by-law.
Those who cannot attend may watch the services online, such as the one posted below.