Six elders of a church in Ontario, Canada, have been asked to appear in a criminal court for holding in-person services in violation of COVID-19-related restrictions. The elders, who face a fine of up to $10,000, say the action is “a violation of God-given rights.”
The members of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo were charged last week under Section 10.1 of the Reopening Ontario Act for exceeding the number of permitted people in attendance — 10 people indoors and 10 people outdoors — during a worship service on Dec. 27, according to CBC News.
Officers from the Waterloo Region Police Service visited the homes of the elders at night and gave them each a summons to court.
The church says no outbreak has been traced back to its services since they reopened in June. But they “have heard a plethora of stories from many of our congregants about how they were negatively affected spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and financially during the first lockdown,” the elders said in a statement.
“We are peaceful family men seeking to pastorally care for our families and our church in sincere obedience to God. We are not criminals,” they said.
The elders of Trinity Bible Chapel are not the only religious leaders in Ontario to have faced similar charges. However, the elders noted, “to our knowledge, this is the first time that each and every member of an entire elders board has been charged for gathering a church to worship.”
The WRPS appears to be “trying to make an example of us,” they said.
Chief of Police Brian Larkin, the elders pointed out, “publicly endorsed much larger public gatherings in June.”
At a time when outdoor gatherings were restricted to not more than five for the people of Ontario, Larkin offered the “full support” to a protest in which the “crowd may have been between 12,000 and 20,000 strong.”
“For years we have taught our children to respect police, and now our children and grandchildren are witness to their fathers and grandfathers receiving charges from police for worshipping Christ with our church. It is a dark day for Waterloo Region and Ontario,” the church leaders remarked.
The elders further stated that Jesus is “the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and therefore we must honour and obey him above all earthly governments.”
The church says on its website, "We will be meeting again this Sunday for live worship services at our building on Lobsinger Line! ... Each service will max out at 30% building occupancy in accordance with provincial requirements."