A Canadian pastor has been arrested after his church held an outdoor worship service at an undisclosed location after the local government ordered the church building to be closed.
Tim Stephens, who serves as pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, was arrested Monday after refusing to abide by the order from Alberta Health Services to refrain from holding worship services that don't comply with the provincial COVID-19 rules.
On Monday, Stephens shared on his Twitter account that “I just got a tip that the police may be on their way to arrest me.”
Shortly after that, police showed up and arrested the pastor in front of his eight children, who tearfully told him goodbye.
Video footage of the arrest was obtained by Rebel News.
A reporter for the Canadian news outlet asked the police if they wanted to comment on “why Jason Kenney gets a free pass and you’re arresting pastors across the province." The comment was a reference to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s June 1 dinner with cabinet members that did not comply with the province’s public health restrictions.
Early Tuesday morning, Stephens’ wife, Raquel, posted an update announcing that “Tim was arrested again for holding an outdoor service in violation of Alberta’s health orders."
"He went before a Justice of the Peace [Monday] evening and refused the bail condition, so he’ll remain in custody until his next court date June 28," she wrote.
In a statement, Raquel Stephens explained that state authorities want "Tim to tell people what to wear, where to stand, and to forbid some people from being [in] the church."
She noted that when she asked the police officers if they had ever broken the health orders, they answered in the affirmative.
Tim “was offered bail conditional upon his agreement to abide by all public health orders,” she added. “He couldn’t agree because doing so would prevent him from faithfully shepherding the flock that has been entrusted to his care. He will remain in custody until his next court date on June 28.”
Mrs. Stephens predicted that “Tim’s imprisonment will strengthen us in the faith and embolden us to love and obey Christ, no matter the cost.”
She asked for prayers that her husband would “stand firm; that he would meditate on the love of Christ and his sacrifice for his sinners; that he would be comforted in his chains.”
The Calgary Police Service and Alberta Health Services confirmed Stephens was arrested for violating a court order.
"Stephens acknowledged the injunction, but chose to move forward with an illegal outdoor service, ignoring requirements for social distancing and reduced capacity limits for attendees," the joint statement reads.
The news outlet notes that a large crowd gathered at an undisclosed location to worship and hear Stephens preach on Sunday. The congregation was reportedly discovered by a police helicopter. Police vehicles were seen circling the location and waited until Monday to arrest Stephens.
Stephens is represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
On June 5, Pastor Stephens tweeted pictures of notices that were posted on the doors of his church proclaiming that “Alberta Health Services Has Ordered This Premises Closed to the Public” and “Alberta Health Services has secured this building as per section 62.1 of the Public Health Act.”
The closure of Fairview Baptist Church will remain in effect “until such time that this order is rescinded by an Executive Officer of Alberta Health Services.”
Stephens attempted to make the best of the situation by vowing that “Fines, injunctions, imprisonment, and seizure of property will only demonstrate the folly of their actions and bring glory to Christ.”
He remarked that it was “incredible that this happened in the same week our most senior officials were photo’d flouting health orders,” referring to Kenney.
Stephens was arrested last month for holding a church service that “did not comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits.”
During his imprisonment, Stephens wrote a letter to his children asserting that “I have been arrested because I am convinced by the word of God, reason, and science, that we must gather as a church and live our lives with freedom in Christ.”
Raquel Stephens shared an excerpt of that letter in her update Tuesday morning.
According to Rebel News, Alberta authorities were forced to drop other charges against the pastor last month after discovering that Alberta Health Services never served Stephens with the court order he was said to have violated.
Stephens is not the only Canadian pastor to face legal consequences for holding in-person worship services after his church building was ordered to close.
The pastor of a church in Aylmer, Ontario, faces nearly $200,000 in fines for holding outdoor worship services after the local government shut down his church building.
Artur Pawlowski, another pastor based in Calgary, has had multiple encounters with law enforcement over coronavirus worship restrictions.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org