Last Sunday I paid a visit to a GraceLife Church west of Edmonton, because the church led by Pastor James Coates has been the site of peaceful Christian civil disobedience to the lockdown restrictions on places of worship.
The church itself has been subject to an executive order from the medical officer of health to close, issued because GraceLife does not turn away congregants to meet the government mandated 15 per cent of fire code capacity for places of worship. The church also does not require congregants to wear masks.
Pastor Coates has been fined $1,200 for breaching health regulations. Two Sundays ago, he was arrested by the local RCMP for violating public health orders. On February 14, Pastor Coates, in defiance of the government but in obedience to his God, took to the pulpit again while the RCMP waited outside. Coates gave a sermon on the appropriateness of Christian civil disobedience and the restraints of the relationship between government and church.
However, he was not arrested that day. Pastor Coates was to turn himself in to police on Tuesday.
He did, and he has remained in custody ever since, a political prisoner for practicing his faith in a country that claims to have freedom of religion. It's the kind of thing you would expect to see in Hong Kong, not Edmonton.
Pastor Coates is in the capable hands of his lawyer James Kitchen from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Kitchen will be updating me on Coates' case as it proceeds. According to Kitchen, Pastor Coates cannot in good conscience comply with conditions of release that require him to stop holding services.
For the time that I was at the church, as the only journalist they opened their doors to, it was like the "before times," when people were joyful and their faces were uncovered, when people hugged and shook hands when meeting. It was normal.
GraceLife is an oasis in an abnormal world, and they're fighting against the government to keep it that way.