The GraceLife congregation has gone underground to escape the Alberta government's enforcement of health orders. For the second Sunday since provincial health authorities, RCMP, Paladin Security and a private fencing contractor seized control of the church property, the congregation met at a secret location to worship without complying with restrictions on religious services.
The church property was fenced off on April 7 when an Alberta Health Services closure notice, that was issued to GraceLife in January, was enforced by police. The church has been holding weekly services that reach fire code capacity of over 600 people. The services are non-compliant with health edicts that limit in person church attendance to 15 per cent of fire code capacity, force congregants into masks and require social distancing inside the building.
GraceLife says these restrictions on attendance and interaction are a violation of its congregants' religious freedom.
GraceLife Pastor James Coates drew international attention after he turned himself in to authorities for violating the public health orders on places of worship. Coates spent 35 days in Edmonton’s maximum security Remand Centre before a deal was struck for his release. His trial is set to begin in May.
According to a video posted by the church, last week’s underground service was held inside a building.
Rebel News attended Sunday’s outdoor service in rural Alberta, on a promise to keep the location of the illegal church service secret. Approximately 300 people risked $1,200 illegal gathering tickets to hear Pastor Coates preach, worship Jesus and partake in Christian fellowship uncontrolled by the provincial government.
Christians in China and parts of the Middle East routinely worship in underground, unofficial “house churches” to avoid persecution by the state.