The pastor of a Baptist church in the city of Calgary in Canada has become the third church leader to be arrested for hosting in-person services surpassing the attendance cap imposed by covid regulations in the area.
Tim Stephens, lead pastor of the Fairview Baptist Church, was arrested on Sunday after he had finished leading the church´s 11am service.
In a joint statement, police and Alberta Health Authorities said that Pastor Stephens was given a court order that required him to stop holding in-person services earlier this month but he nevertheless "chose to move forward with today's service, ignoring requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing and reduced capacity limits for attendees".
"For several weeks, AHS has attempted to work collaboratively with leadership at Fairview Baptist Church to address the ongoing public health concerns at the site. It is only when significant risk is identified or continued non-compliance is noted, that AHS resorts to enforcement action," the statement continues.
Pastor Stephens had been very vocal against the coronavirus restrictions on places of worship. He had recently written a blog on the church´s website stating the reasons why the church was continuing to gather in person.
A video of pastor Stephens called " The reasons why we gather" was also posted on the church´s YouTube channel.
"Our actions are borne out of theological commitments to the Lordship of Christ and his instruction to the church as revealed in Scripture," Pastor Stephens wrote. "This, above all, is the reason why we have been gathering and will continue to gather … the consequences may be severe. But we stand before Christ rather than bend before consequences."
Only on Friday pastor Stephens wrote on Twitter: "As I head into another weekend facing threats of arrest for leading my church to gather in worship...
"I believe a clear conscience is a more desirable than staying clear of unpleasant consequences."
The arrestment of Pastor Stephens follows that of Pastor Artur Pawlowski who, earlier this month, was detained and later released and that of Pastor James Coates, who spent 35 days in jail is currently on trial.
All three have been charged for defying coronavirus rules.
Current restrictions in Calgary mean indoor church services can only go ahead with a maximum of 15 people following social distancing and masking.