A congregation in Ontario has been slapped with a $66,000 fine for holding outdoor worship services after its church building was ordered closed by a judge, bringing the total that the church and its leaders have been fined to $183,000, according to the pastor.
Henry Hildebrandt, the pastor of The Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario, announced that his church was facing fines for refusing to abide by the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown orders in a YouTube video posted Wednesday.
“We were back in court on Monday. We were back in court earlier in May, and the judge had fined us $117,000, and he also ordered that our meetinghouse would be locked, which happened later on that day.”
After the doors to the meetinghouse were locked, the Church of God held outdoor worship services.
Hildebrandt defended the decision to continue holding services.
“We must obey God rather than man," the pastor added. "We must continue to have meetings, which we did on the 16th of May, and he now fined us another $66,000, total now coming up to $183,000.”
"The scripture that came to my mind when I saw those fines as the judge was speaking ... was that the Lord owns the cattle on 1,000 hills. So for the Lord, $183,000 ... He can work that out," the Hildebrandt added. "Maybe there is a way how He works it out where it doesn't get paid. If it needs to be paid, then there will be a way to do it. Whatever He wants, we are seeking His will in the matter to know what we need to do with that."
Hildebrandt said that the fact that the Church of God held outdoor worship services on the two subsequent Sundays did not come up in Monday’s court hearing, maintaining that he was “not sure if that’s still coming.” He estimated that attendance at the most recent outdoor worship services ranged from 850 to 1,000 people.
“I wish that all of us would look with open eyes to see what is happening,” he added. “A revival has begun, an awakening is taking place, and God is using these things to kick out lukewarm Christianity, and like the Book of Revelation says, ‘It’s either we are hot or we are cold.’”
Hildebrandt indicated that the threat of additional fines would not deter the Church of God from continuing to hold church services.
“We’re looking forward to a wonderful, wonderful service this coming Sunday," he said.
As Hildebrandt noted in the video, The Church of God has already faced fines for failing to abide by a stay-at-home order in Canada’s most populous province. Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas ordered the church to cease holding in-person worship services.
According to the Canadian website Global News, Thomas ruled on April 30 that the church had violated his orders by holding Sunday services streamed online. Two weeks later, Thomas imposed fines of more than $100,000 on the Church of God and two of its pastors. He ordered authorities to lock the church doors.
The ongoing lockdown orders limit worship gatherings in Ontario to 10 people for in-person religious services. More than 100 unmasked worshipers gathered at the April 25 service that led Thomas to hold the church in contempt five days later.
On the two Sundays immediately following the April 30 contempt order, The Church of God continued to hold in-person worship services, where attendance ranged from 166 people to more than 200.
On the three Sundays since May 14, when the fines were handed down and the church was ordered closed, the church held outdoor worship services.
Thomas held the church in contempt of court again last Friday. He subsequently ordered the place of worship to pay $66,000 in fines. The church itself will have to pay a fine of $35,000. Hildebrant was ordered to pay $20,000. Assistant Pastor Peter Wall will have to pay $6,000. The remaining $5,000 will go toward legal costs.
The Church of God is not the only Canadian church that has attempted to push back against the ongoing COVID-19 worship restrictions. Calgary, Alberta-based Pastor Artur Pawlowski has gone viral multiple times after sharing his encounters with local law enforcement officials who came to his church to enforce the restrictions.
Another Canadian pastor, James Coates, spent about a month in prison for failing to abide by the ongoing worship restrictions.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org