An Ontario church has been fined over $80k for holding an in-person worship service for more than 10 people in defiance of state limitations on gatherings under the Reopening Ontario Act.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice hit Trinity Bible Chapel of Waterloo Ontario with fines totalling $83,000 last week, for a service held on January 24.
At the time, the church had received an order from the court not to hold gatherings of more than 10 persons. However, a concern for the wellbeing of the community “during the darkest and coldest season of the year” compelled the church to open their doors to those in need of help and hope.
“People are lonely, afraid, despairing of life itself, and facing financial ruin, among other deprivations and tribulations,” the church’s pastor, Jacob Reaume, said in a January 22 open invitation to the community.
Reaume said he personally extended the invitation to anyone and everyone, despite the court-imposed restrictions, out of neighbourly love and concern.
“Risking reputation and financial viability to offer eternal hope and warm Christian fellowship to a world in despair is an act of love that I am certain Jesus smiles on,” he said.
Following the service, Associate Pastor, Will Schuurman, said on Twitter that many unchurched people attended the January service, which saw seven individuals baptized and four new baptism requests since.
“It was someone’s first time out in a church for 10-years,” Schuurman said. “They were at the end of their rope and hurting, but thought that maybe there was something worth believing when they heard we’d be having services.”
This past Sunday, heaven threw a party. Soli Deo Gloria! Update below 👇 pic.twitter.com/eW6uQZlCTz— Will Schuurman (@wschuurman) January 27, 2021
According to a February 25 statement from Pastor Reaume, that service ended up costing the church $83,000 in fines, with Pastor Reaume and Pastor Schuurman owing $5,000 each, while another pastor was hit with a $4,000 fine. Each of the church’s elders owe $3,000, and the church itself owes $15,000, plus an additional $45,000 which they’ve been ordered to pay to cover the legal fees of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“The Ministry of Attorney General claims their lawyers spent 104 hours to prosecute us for holding services on January 24–charges for which we pled guilty,” Reaume said. “Evidently, the MAG was very motivated, and the prosecutors worked tirelessly against our church.”
The church said they plan on paying the fines, which cannot be appealed.
“I could say it was the most extravagantly priced service I’ve ever held, but that would not be factual,” Reaume said. “Every service I’ve held has cost Christ His very own blood, which is worth infinitely more than any dollar amount.”
The hefty fine comes just weeks after an Alberta Pastor was jailed last month for holding in-person worship services. The arrest of Pastor James Coastes, however, did not deter his church, GraceLife, from continuing to hold services. It has also emboldened many other churches across the province to open their doors in defiance of state regulations.