GraceLife Church holds secret service after AHS fenced facility for violating public health orders

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GraceLife Church held an in-person service at an undisclosed location Sunday after Alberta Health Services (AHS) erected metal fencing around the building last week for violating COVID-19 health orders.

The Parkland County church posted a video to YouTube on Monday of the service, which was led by pastor James Coates. During the service, Coates described the actions by AHS as having “jailed” the church’s facility. AHS with assistance from RCMP shuttered the building last Wednesday after months of defiance of provincial health orders.

It’s unclear where exactly the church held its Sunday service but one performer on the video described it as an “underground church.”

Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, who lives in Southern California and is a teacher of Coates, said in a separate video that he received a letter from Coates about holding a service without disclosing its location to the public.


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“It’s amazing to have an underground church in Canada,” he said to a surge of cheers and chuckles from the congregation.

“The government of Alberta triple-fenced the church in and locked it so people couldn’t go there. There are no legitimate reasons for doing what they did. This is a first for the western world to have the government lockout believers from church and that after imprisoning James Coates … in a maximum-security prison. They led him away in chains.”

The church’s shuttering came after it held two packed services over the Easter weekend in violation of a closure order issued in January for previously flouting COVID-19 restrictions. Coates, who has led several services in recent months, was ticketed in December and then jailed in February for 35 days after refusing to follow court orders. He was released on March 22 from the Edmonton Remand Centre.

The video follows a massive protest on Sunday where roughly 400 people gathered outside the church.

The current health measures for faith services include limiting in-person attendance to 15 per cent of fire code capacity, physically distancing between households and mandatory masks. The province encourages virtual or online services.

— With files from Dylan Short and Anna Junker


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