A Calgary church that saw its building closed by the provincial government remained undeterred Sunday and held an illegal outdoor “underground” worship service at an undisclosed location.
Alberta Health Services, the province’s health department, said Saturday it had physically closed Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary until the pastor, Tim Stephens, could “demonstrate the ability to comply” with COVID-19 health restrictions, the CBC reported.
Although most churches in the United States are gathering with few or no limitations, churches across Canada remain under severe restrictions. In Alberta, churches can gather only at 15 percent capacity.
Stephens, in a statement, said the health department changed the locks on the church. A sign on the door reads, “Alberta Health Services has ordered this premises closed to the public.”
But the lack of a building did not stop the congregation from gathering Sunday for worship.
In a video posted on Facebook, Stephens is seen preaching while standing in front of a field with what appears to be a marsh or lake in the background. Attendees, including children, can be heard on the video. The camera never shows the attendees.
Stephens, dressed in a suit, preached from Revelation 1:4-6.
“Locked out of our building and forced to meet outdoors did not stop the gathering of the saints and the proclamation of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the church said in a Monday Facebook post. “We were reminded that he is ‘the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen’ (Rev 1:5-6).”
Stephens, in his statement, said, “fines, injunctions, imprisonments, and seizure of property will only demonstrate the folly of their actions and bring glory to Christ.”
“They can take the building, but they cannot take the church,” he said, according to the CBC.
Adam Soos, a reporter for Rebel News, attended the service.
“I was fortunate to attend this underground worship, though for fear of persecution, we were asked not to film,” Soos wrote. “The mood was joyful, despite the church being locked up, and the congregants prayed for those who had stolen their church from them by name. These peaceful warriors are immutable in their love of God. Any government official who thinks they can dissuade these people from worship is waging an unwinnable war. Worship will continue, like clockwork.”
Stephens was arrested in May, following a service, for violating health restrictions. The charges were later dropped.
In a blog last month, Stephens acknowledged COVID-19 is “serious” but argued the “cure should not be worse than the disease,” pointing to problems of mental health and suicide. His church had not had a “single transmission” of COVID-19, he wrote.
At the time, church worship services were limited to only 15 people.
“Restricting the church to 15 people – which essentially restricts the church from gathering – is against the will of Christ and against the conscience of many who desire to worship the Lord of glory according to his word,” Stephens wrote.
Photo courtesy: ©Fairview Baptist Facebook
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.