Police Block and Barricade Canadian Church Over COVID-19 Violatons

Health officials in Alberta, Canada, made the decision to “physically close” a local church building until its leaders agree to finally comply with coronavirus regulations.

Police vehicles blocked entrances to the parking lot of GraceLife Church in Edmonton Wednesday morning and temporary fencing was erected around the building. The congregation has met normally since summer 2020, despite requirements that church gatherings limit capacity, require masks, and practice social distancing.

Over the last nine months, the province’s health department fielded more than 100 complaints about GraceLife and conducted 18 inspections, resulting in multiple fines and orders to comply. Its pastor was arrested and spent a month in jail refusing the conditions of bail, that he agree to follow health regulations.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents GraceLife and its pastor James Coates, said the move to barricade private church property prevents citizens from “exercising their Charter freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and worship.”

As officials surrounded the church, dozens of GraceLife members gathered outside and sang hymns, according to a report by the Globe and Mail.

“Please pray for wisdom as our elders navigate this new development!” one member tweeted, posting a screenshot of the view of the new fencing from the church’s security camera.

Premier Jason Kenney told Albertans a week ago that the province is in its third wave of COVID-19 outbreaks. He suggested that more stringent enforcement by police may be necessary at this point, saying authorities have “been very patient during a difficult time trying to get compliance through education, through voluntary compliance, and using sanctions as a last resort.”

The GraceLife case has drawn the attention of those in both Canada and the US who fear government overreach during pandemic. Alberta legislator Dan Williams, a conservative politician and a Christian, spoke up to defend worship as a fundamental freedom. He said while he respects the 15 percent capacity limit for gatherings, “it is a different line to cross to barricade a church, a place of God.”

GraceLife leaders consider the COVID-19 risks overblown and claim that their ability to continue gathering without spreading the virus is proof.

“We believe love for our neighbor demands that we exercise our civil liberties,” the church wrote. “We do not see our actions as perpetuating the longevity of COVID-19 or any other virus that will inevitably come along. If anything, we see our actions as contributing to its end—the end of destructive lockdowns and the end of the attempt to institutionalize the debilitating fear of viral infections.”

Pastor Coates is due in court next month for violating gathering limits at GraceLife.

The Good News of Easter

The most important decision anyone will ever make in their life is to follow Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.  Jesus wants to take the sinfulness of our lives and redeem our lives and souls for His glory and our good.

Kelly Williams is co-founder and senior pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. | Courtesy of Kelly Williams

There is nothing more powerful than the resurrection of Jesus, but even the people in Jesus’ day had a hard time believing He resurrected from the dead. Matter a fact, they went to the tomb to further prepare the body for burial and when they arrived, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were confused by all of this, two men appeared to them in dazzling apparel. The two men looked at the disciples of Jesus and Luke 24:5 records what they said to the disciples, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?6 He is not here but has risen.”

What a moment!

He is not here but has risen.

At our church we have a tradition every Easter Sunday where the pastor declares, “He is Risen!” And the congregation responds, “He is Risen Indeed.” It is my understanding this is a Lutheran tradition, but as a good Southern Baptist, we don’t mind stealing anything that puts the focus on Jesus and the Gospel, the Good News!

When the men in dazzling clothes spoke to the disciples of Jesus, it jarred their memory and they remembered Jesus words. The trauma of the crucifixion was excruciating to their hearts and minds. They were numb with trauma. The resurrection exceeded this trauma in their minds and the one that lived in them was greater than the trauma they had endured around them.

Luke tells us in Luke 24:8, “They remembered his words.” Luke tells us in Luke 24:10, it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and other women as well who told it to the apostles.

When the Apostle Peter heard that Jesus was alive, he jumped up and ran to the tomb.

What a moment for Peter who had just betrayed Jesus! Luke tells us in Luke 24:12 that he looked in the tomb and saw the linen cloth of Jesus and marveled at what happened.

Jesus has a way of restoring hope in the darkest moment of our lives, that’s what the resurrection did and does for you and me.

On the day Jesus was resurrected, he met a couple of the disciples on the road of Emmaus.

It appeared to them evil had won.

But evil never wins in God’s economy, it just appears for a time like it does. Jesus meets the two disciples on the Road of Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him.  He plays dumb acting like he didn’t know what had just occurred in Israel. He talks with them and they recount the story to him. I am sure Jesus was smiling on the inside the whole time. He tends to do that when we are busy educating him about things that pertain to Him.

Eventually Jesus opens their eyes, so they recognize that it is Him. They make this famous statement to themselves in Luke 24:32 “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

They didn’t know it, but they were experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit’s presence through Jesus.

When I was eight years old, I experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit for the first time in my life. Let me say it another way, “My heart burned within me while God talked to me for the first time in my life.” It was during a revival service at Antioch Baptist Church in Knob Lick, Kentucky. I remember it was during the final song and we were inviting people to give their lives to Jesus. I had never felt like I needed to give my life to Jesus until that day.

I had never experienced this before and didn’t know what it was. I just knew I was emotional. I asked my dad about it. He explained to me that what I was experiencing was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. He explained to me I was a sinner, Jesus died for my sins, and if I were to die without him, I would go to hell. I would be separated from God forever. I didn’t want that. He told that when I experience this again, he would pray with me to receive Christ.

The next night, nothing.

However, the following night, I felt God speaking to me and calling me to be His child. I ran down the aisle and gave my life to Jesus. I fell in the floor at my dad’s feet. He wept as he prayed with me. It was one of the most special moments of my entire life.

The next day, my mom took me and bought me a Bible

It was my first Bible.

That was forty-one years ago!

I still have that Bible.

Maybe your heart is burning right now, and it is scaring you.

I think back to the disciples’ initial fear of experiencing God’s presence. Jesus spoke peace over them in Luke 24:36 and told them in Luke 24:48 to stay in the city until they were clothed with power from on high.

What does it mean to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high? It means “stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.

This Easter season I encourage you to gather with others like the original disciples in anticipation of God filling you with power from heaven. When He does, go out and share the glorious news of God’s Good News that Jesus is risen, He is Risen Indeed!

That’s good news!

Happy Easter!

Churches split over staying open during lockdown

(Photo: Unsplash/JJ Jordan)

England’s decision to allow places of worship to remain open during the third national lockdown has revealed a split in opinion among churches.

While this latest lockdown in England is similar to that imposed by the Government last March it differs in that this time round, churches are permitted to remain open for public worship.

Despite this, some pastors have already taken the decision to close their buildings and others are urging the same.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) has asked its churches in England to suspend public worship during this lockdown because of rising Covid numbers and pressure on the NHS.

“We strongly encourage churches not to open their buildings for in-person meeting if at all possible,” the BUGB said in a statement.

“We recognise that the Government guidelines allow churches to remain open in England during this period; however, given the significant increase in numbers of Covid-19 infections and pressure on the NHS, we advise churches to stand with the wider community in making every effort to limit the spread of the virus.

“We would still support churches to open their buildings, as you have done throughout the pandemic, to provide vital services to the local community, such as food banks.

“We know that geographical contexts differ across England and we are aware that the decision lies with the local church. Nonetheless we are mindful of the pressure church leaders are under and the greater risk taken by all those involved in hosting open buildings for whom we have a duty of care.”

The Church of England has been criticised by some Anglicans for refusing to advise the closure of churches.

The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nurse and Chair of the Church of England’s Covid Recovery Group, acknowledged that “some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person” and that some parishes would offer digital services only for the timebeing, but she left the decision to remain open or closed with individual churches.

“Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home,” she added. 

The leader of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), John Stevens, has taken a similar approach, telling church leaders and trustees to “make their own decision” about the appropriate course of action “in their specific circumstances”.

“Whilst the new law will allow places of worship to remain open for corporate worship, this does not mean that they are required to remain open,” he wrote in an update on the FIEC website.

“Many churches may choose to close for public worship during this lockdown period out of concern for the members of the congregation (especially if they are elderly and vulnerable) or their reputation in the wider community where there is strong public concern about unnecessarily spreading the virus.”

He continued: “FIEC would urge all churches to comply fully with the law and guidance, and respect the autonomy of each local church as to whether to continue to meet physically during this difficult period for our nation.

“It is important that we respect each other and the decisions that our churches make and not cast aspersions on the motives that individuals and churches may have for either choosing to remain open or moving to online services only.”

Attitudes have also varied in Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordered churches to shut. 

While Church of Scotland Moderator, Dr Martin Fair, has welcomed the decision to close churches “to keep each other safe”, Catholic bishops have attacked the order. 

In a strongly worded statement, they said they were “perplexed” by the decision “given that the stringent measures taken since last March to ensure public safety in our churches have been effective”.

“No evidence has been forthcoming to justify the inclusion of places of worship as sources of infection,” they said.

“Without such scientific evidence these restrictions will appear to Catholics to be arbitrary and unfair. Moreover, significant number of other sectors similarly restricted last March alongside public worship – such as construction, manufacturing and elite sports – have now been left free to continue in operation.

“We also note that, in England, the essential contribution of public worship to the spiritual welfare of all citizens during this crisis has now been endorsed by the decision not to close places of worship while the Scottish Government has apparently retreated from this view, causing dismay and confusion.”

Their position reflects that of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who has welcomed the decision south of the border to keep churches open for public worship.

“The regular practice of our faith in God is a source of personal resilience and dedicated service of those in need, both vital in these difficult times,” he said.

“I am glad no measures have been introduced to obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good.”

Pastors weigh up whether to open or close in England’s latest lockdown

(Photo: Facebook/Church of England)

Some church leaders have made the decision to close their doors during England’s third national lockdown, while others are staying open.

Places of worship are permitted to open for public worship during the lockdown, but Tuesday night’s announcement sparked debate among Christians on social media as to whether it is wise to gather in person at this time.

St Paul’s Cathedral announced on Tuesday that it would be opening its doors daily for private prayer and led worship but only between the hours of 12pm and 3:30pm. 

Numbers will be limited due to social distancing and a one way system will be in place.

Bryony Taylor, Rector of Barlborough & Clowne in Derbyshire, said she had made the decision to close her church.

“Everyone was relieved,” she said.

“I had people on rotas feeling they ‘ought’ to come because we were open but who didn’t feel safe.” 

She echoed calls from some Anglicans who felt that leaders in the Church of England should have told churches to close. 

“I feel a national statement should be made. Going to communal worship is not ‘staying at home’,” she said.

David Stout, the Church of England’s regional giving adviser for the north, said he believed churches should close. 

“I really hope church leaders feel empowered to close their church buildings,” he tweeted.

“To stay open and draw people in, is not, in the most part, a healthy thing to do imo. Our churches are important in helping loneliness etc, but there are other ways of being that service.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols was one of the strongest voices last night in welcoming the decision to permit churches to open.

“The regular practice of our faith in God is a source of personal resilience & dedicated service of those in need, both vital in these difficult times,” he said.

“I am glad no measures have been introduced to obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good.”

Church planter Dai Hankey said he was concerned about the “emotional welfare” of church leaders “taking hits whatever they decide”.

“Regarding churches deciding to continue to gather during lockdown (or not): Not all decisions to close are cowardly + liberal. Not all decisions to gather are loveless + reckless,” he said.