Hundreds gather for outdoor service

·4 min read

After the church doors were locked by a court order, Church of God (Restoration) Pastor Henry Hildebrandt conducted what he called a “God-given freedom rally” to a crowd of about 500 people on Sunday, May 16 at the John Street North property.

Current provincial regulations limit such gatherings to 10 people.

Passersby and journalists lined the side of the church property to observe. Some drivers passing by honked or yelled out the window.

Rows of chairs and benches were set up for people on the property to watch the pastor preach on a makeshift stage.

The crowd was not wearing masks or physical distancing. Some blew bubbles, others held up various flags, while others shouted insults at journalists on the roadside.

This event comes two days after officials changed the locks on the exterior doors to the building after an order from Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas. Fines were also levied against the church corporation, ($35,000), Pastor Hildebrandt ($10,000), and Assistant Pastor Peter Wall ($3,000).

While the event took place in person, it was filmed and broadcast live online to social media networks.

In what appeared to be a prepared speech reading mostly from a piece of paper, Pastor Hildebrandt started by telling the crowd that he, God and his people are not locked down.

He then commented on the warm weather, and claimed the event was a “God-given freedom rally.”

“The title this morning is called lest we forget,” said Pastor Hildebrandt. He emphasized the importance of remembering history and ancestors, and referred to a fire at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on Feb. 3, 1916.

“It’s obvious that we have forgotten our history. It’s obvious that we don’t know what was before us or we wouldn’t act the way we are acting,” said Pastor Hildebrandt.

He also criticized the government, fines imposed by courts, and the media.

Pastor Hildebrandt claimed the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) reported that the church had “burly men,” and invited them to come up to the stage.

Once they came up to the stage, he claimed these “burly men” were the opposite of “soy boys,” which generated applause from the audience.

(Soy boys is a pejorative term used in certain communities—mostly by alt-right groups, conspiracy theorists and Internet trolls—used to describe men with feminine characteristics. Soy products contain plant-based estrogens.)

The group clapped, cheered, and whooped. Several people hugged Pastor Hildebrandt as they left the stage.

He quoted some scripture throughout, including Deuteronomy 4:9, Jeremiah 23:5, Psalms 46:9.

Several congregation members held up a printed paper of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pastor Hildebrandt said anyone interfering with a religious service is in contravention of the criminal code.

“People keep reminding me that my actions and my preaching and my way of doing things don’t look very godly,” said Pastor Hildebrandt.

“You need to go on a trip with Jesus, and let him go through the temple and take a good look of what he thought of what was going on in the temple.”

He said that would change one’s perspective of him, and that he hasn’t “whipped anyone yet.”

Pastor Hildebrandt said, “serving God is actually a lot of fun,” and that in the church, they “party nonstop.”

He encouraged visitors not to engage with anyone on the road. If anyone honks or engages with them, he said, congregation members should simply wave. “All I can say is father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Pastor Hildebrandt closed with a prayer, and thanked visitors for coming from Leamington, Cayuga, Kitchener, and all across Ontario. Guests were invited to stay for a lunch provided by the church.

Aylmer Police have charged Aylmer Church of God (Restoration), an Aylmer man, 57, an Aylmer man, 26, and a Steinbach, Manitoba, man, 26, after a large outdoor service was held at Aylmer Church of God on Sunday, May 16 in contravention of Ontario's COVID-19 emergency orders.

Police Chief Zvonko Horvat announced the charges on Tuesday, May 18, two days after a service attended by over 400 on the church grounds, following the court-ordered locking of the building itself on Friday, May 14.

Chief Horvat had stated on Monday, May 17, that police would “actively pursue further options to ensure compliance with emergency orders of this particular church and participants in order to protect the community from harm.”

Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express