A conservative church in Canada and its leaders have been fined almost $200,000 (£116,000) for breaking coronavirus restrictions imposed in the area by holding in-person services breaching the capacity limit.
Currently, Ontario has a “stay at home” order and in-person religious gatherings are capped at 30 per cent capacity.
The Church of God, in Ontario, had been ordered to stop holding in-person gatherings in their building since April. However, fines started to accumulate after Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas realised the church was not following the court’s orders, according to Global News.
Thomas imposed an initial fine of $117,000 (total) on the church corporation, pastor Henry Hildebrandt and assistant pastor Peter Wall on 14th May and sent police officers to close the building and change the locks.
In the video, police officers can be seen ordering churchgoers to leave the premises, stating the court orders and explaining that the church will be locked. Congregants complied with the orders and even prayed for the officers as they made their way to the pulpit.
But since the closure of the building, the church has been holding outdoor services which has led to authorities issuing a further $66,000 in fines as police believe the meetings have attracted around 400 people.
In a recent video, Pastor Hildebrandt said he believes a “revival has begun” as church attendance has doubled.
“An awakening is taking place, and God is using these things to kick out lukewarm Christianity. … In the book of Revelation, it mentions, first, God wishes that we were rather cold or hot, but not in-between. And that is what God is accomplishing.”
“No wonder the Bible says, ‘Do not stop gathering, do not stop gathering,’” the pastor continued, referring to Hebrews 10:25 in the New Testament.
During a court hearing, the Crown Attorney Lisa Brost argued that the church should not be allowed to appeal to the court to remove the locks from its building until they have fully paid the fines as they “deliberately did exactly what they knew they were not permitted to do”.
The judge did not grant the request but instead condemned the church for its “continued, brazen, self-promoting acts of breach.”