GraceLife congregation meets in secret for third week in a row after seizure of church property

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The GraceLife Church congregation met in secret for the third consecutive Sunday since provincial health authorities seized the church building and land, west of Edmonton city limits.

The Alberta government locked up their pastor, confiscated their church and forced them into hiding, but the faithful members of GraceLife Church are still holding underground services in undisclosed locations each weekend to avoid law enforcement.

The church property was fenced off by RCMP and Alberta Health Services using a private fencing contractor at dawn on April 7. An AHS statement said the agency was acting on a previous Court of Queen's Bench closure order issued in January, and that the closure will remain in place until GraceLife can demonstrate an ability to comply with public health restrictions on places of worship.

Currently, all places of worship in Alberta must limit attendance to 15 per cent of fire code capacity and enforce mask wearing and social distancing. GraceLife’s congregants and Pastors Jake Spenst and James Coates say these restrictions infringe on their ability to practice their religion uninhibited by the government, and that they are obligated to meet each week in person.

Coates was previously fined $1,200 for violating pandemic restrictions, and was jailed for 35 days after he turned himself in to authorities for failing to comply with an unsigned undertaking that forced him to adhere to worship service rules. Coates still faces trial, set to begin May 3-5 in Edmonton.

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