Pastor, village agree to remove church tent

The mayor of Fundy-St. Martins says the village is pleased following a court order to remove a Garnett Settlement church tent that had been the subject of noise complaints.

Pastor Philip James Hutchings and Higher Life Church had been operating church services out of a tent on Base Road in Garnett Settlement starting in 2022. Hutchings was charged with violations of the village's noise bylaw in November, and in February the village filed a lawsuit in the Court of King's Bench against Philip and Jamie Hutchings to have the tent removed.

Nick Cameron, a development officer with the Fundy Regional Service Commission, said in an affidavit the tent was given a one-year exemption from building code standards in November 2022 on the understanding the church would build a permanent facility. No permit for a new building was received, and a permanent permit for the tent was incomplete, Cameron wrote. After the exemption expired, a building inspector ordered that the tent be removed Dec. 6, according to court documents.

The lawsuit also alleged that public address systems and musical instruments had been used loud enough to "disturb the peace and comfort of the neighbourhood," with affidavits filed by five residents. It was seeking a declaration that the church had breached the village's nuisance bylaw, and an order not to breach it again.

In November 2023, Hutchings was charged for breaching the village's nuisance bylaw Sept. 24, Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, and pleaded not guilty in December, when a two-day trial was set for January 2025.

In an affidavit filed May 27, Hutchings asked for six months to sell the tent, and said they had listed the land for sale. He said the church had made efforts to respond to the FRSC's request for further information and ultimately decided against getting a permanent building permit for the tent due to the cost of getting an engineering study on the tent's ability to withstand wind and snow.

"We have at all times acted in good faith with the Village trying to satisfy their concerns," Hutchings wrote. "Circumstances out of our control have prevented us from getting a permanent building erected."

Hutchings' affidavit asked for costs against the village because of "refusal to act in good faith" by not allowing them time to remove and sell the tent.

On June 4, Chief Justice Tracey DeWare signed a consent order which gave Hutchings 90 days to remove the tent, ordered no activities at the tent in the meantime and ordered that the noise bylaw be followed. No costs were given as part of the order.

Jim Bedford, mayor of Fundy-St. Martins, said in a statement the village "is pleased with the outcome. I have been told that the tent has been taken down."

Hutchings' church, formerly known as His Family Tabernacle Church, had been operating out of a Rockland Road venue in Saint John until it faced legal troubles over the province's COVID-19 mandatory order banning indoor gatherings without masks or vaccination requirements. A contempt of court case against the church for services held in a tent at the property in December 2021 was dismissed in February of last year.

Hutchings announced in February on Facebook the church had purchased a building on Gondola Point Road in Quispamsis, and began holding services there in March. On June 6, Hutchings said the church had found a buyer for the tent.

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal