Church whose pastor was arrested for defying COVID-19 restrictions holds service

·2 min read

EDMONTON — With their pastor behind bars, an Edmonton area church held a service again Sunday where the sermon chastised other churches for bowing to COVID-19 public health restrictions.

RCMP say in a news release that they, along with Alberta Health Services, observed that GraceLife Church held a service that exceeded provincially set gathering limits meant to curb the spread of the virus.

They say police will continue to investigate and decide what to do in consultation with health officials.

GraceLife Pastor James Coates was arrested last week when the church continued to hold services that police allege violated COVID-19 restrictions, and he remains in custody for refusing to agree to bail conditions.

Associate pastor Jacob Spenst conducted Sunday's service in his place, telling the congregation that messages of support have been pouring in.

Spenst said he spoke with Coates earlier in the morning and the pastor sounded strong.

"If they take one, there will be another that will stand in his place. And when he is gone another will stand in his place, and we'll continue again and again and again. Why? Because Christ is worthy," Spenst said in a recording of the sermon posted online.

An Alberta Health Services spokeswoman said the provincial health delivery agency "continues to work within the legislation and cooperatively with the RCMP," but offered no further comment on the situation.

RCMP said police would not be providing any further updates on Sunday, but may release more details later this week.

Coates's arrest last Wednesday marked the second time he was charged with breaking public health rules tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is to appear in court this Wednesday.

Faith-based services across Alberta are limited to 15 per cent of normal capacity and mask use is mandatory. Physical distancing between members of different households must be maintained.

Provincial rules allow for music and choral singing, but performers must wear masks.

The police fined the church $1,200 in December. A closure order was issued in January, but it was ignored.

Earlier this month, some Alberta faith leaders called on GraceLife to follow COVID-19 public health rules.

Reverend Scott Sharman with the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton said sometimes people should put their talk of rights aside when it's for the benefit of others.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2021.

The Canadian Press