At least one Calgary church leader is praising the decision by Alberta Health Services to shut down GraceLife Church west of Edmonton, after its pastor and congregants repeatedly defied public health orders for months.
Fences were put up around the building on Wednesday after months of non-compliance with COVID-19 restrictions and charges pending against GraceLife pastor James Coates.
In a media statement, AHS said it “physically closed” the building and has prevented access until the church “can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta’s chief medical officer of health’s restrictions.”
Rev. Greg Glatz is the minister at Calgary’s Knox United Church and says GraceLife has flagrantly, and arrogantly, defied public health orders.
“I think it was long overdue and it needed to be done,” he said of the closure.
Glatz says his church has increased its online offerings and that most churches have found ways to combine compliance with health regulations and faith.
“It makes no sense that a church would have to take a hard stand and say, you know, in the name of faithfulness to God, or in the name of faithfulness to our congregation, we have to defy public health orders,” he said.
Other churches, including Fairview Baptist Church in southeast Calgary and the Street Church in the city’s downtown, have gone the route of GraceLife and actively opposed health restrictions.
Fairview Baptist and its pastor have been issued four tickets for continued violations.
Others have condemned the closure of GraceLife, including the United Conservative MLA for Peace River, Dan Williams.
“We cannot allow churches to be barricaded in our society,” he said on Facebook, echoing concerns by others in some of Alberta’s faith communities.
In an email, AHS told CBC News it respects the important role of churches in the lives of congregants and communities, and that enforcement is always a last resort.
AHS previously said it attempted to work collaboratively with the church for months to address ongoing public health concerns.
Steps taken before Wednesday’s physical closure included:
- An order issued by on Dec. 17 requiring the church to comply with restrictions ordered by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
- A Court of Queen’s Bench order obtained Jan. 21 requiring the church to comply with the previous order.
- A closure order issued Jan. 29 requiring closure until compliance with the restrictions was attained.
- A letter sent on March 27 to Coates providing him with information on the continued spread of COVID-19.
- An invitation to Coates last week offering to meet virtually to discuss the risks presented by COVID-19, but the church did not provided any dates to meet.
“I’m always sad to see a church get closed down, and I certainly don’t want to see that become a common thing,” Glatz said.
“But this church has for four months defied public health orders and taken a flagrant and arrogant stance against those public health orders.”
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