A group of Christians in Aylmer, Ontario, were forced to worship outside Sunday after police seized their building during a worship service, evicted them, and locked the doors last week.
Pastor Henry Hildebrandt of the Church of God in southwestern Ontario, most of whose congregants come from the Mennonite tradition, preached an open-air service after Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas ordered their church facility locked until the provincial gathering limit for indoor church services increases to 30% capacity or more, according to CBC News.
Under Ontario’s shutdown order, both indoor and outdoor religious gatherings are capped at 10 people.
In addition to having their church shut down, Hildebrandt, assistant pastor Peter Wall, and the church face $117,000 in fines and legal fees.
Thomas alleged that the small congregation’s insistence at holding church services had destroyed the tranquility of the town. “This whole thing has turned one small community in Ontario into a cauldron of hostility, one that has pitted neighbour against neighbour. I am deeply concerned about the toxic environment in Aylmer,” Thomas said during a virtual court hearing last Thursday.
“This congregation and these people, although different than the mainstream population of southwestern Ontario, were living in peace and tranquility in this community in the past. Now, I see a splintered community, a fractious community,” he added.
According to video, police officers interrupted the church’s worship service last Friday while congregants sang hymns. As the armed officers entered the sanctuary to order them to vacate, Hildebrandt read from the third chapter of the Book of Daniel, which recounts how God saved three of Daniel’s friends who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship a golden image set up by the king of Babylon.
Hildebrandt and the congregation then prayed for the souls of the police, asking God to forgive them “for they know not what they are doing.”
“Very, very sad day in Canada, to see this actually happening,” Hildebrandt told the camera as congregants shuffled out. “But they’re telling me they have to do their job, so we will have to leave it at that at this point. But we know that God is in control. We know that God is on his throne and that God knows exactly what is happening. We’re looking to the Lord to help us as we faithfully serve him continually.”
“This is what happens when we let our freedoms slide,” he went on, urging Canadians to repent. “This is what happens when we are not vigilant. This is where, so fast, a country can slide down into what we’re seeing here today. But God help us that we would wake up quick.”
Hildebrandt also later preached to the media and police outside who had cut off the surrounding roads, urging them to do the right thing.
As CBC News reported:
Police gathered evidence that will be submitted to the court, [Aylmer Police Chief Zvonko] Horvat said, adding more charges are expected under the Reopening Ontario Act.
“We’re doing everything that is within our power to shut [Hildebrandt] down,” he said.
“We are working with the Attorney General’s office on that particular topic and with their assistance and the court processes. That’s what our options are and that’s what we’re going to continue to pursue.”
“It’s not a simple matter of just going in and removing everybody,” Horvat added.
Lisa Bildy, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is a nonprofit law firm representing the church, said, “Locking the doors of churches in Canada is a poignant symbol of our democracy under threat. This was two weeks to flatten the curve and has become 60 weeks and counting. No outbreaks have been traced to the church… I don’t think we should be locking church doors in this country. Church is fundamental to these people.”
“Another sad day in Canadian history,” Hildebrandt tweeted after the incident. “This afternoon we (the congregation of the Church of God at Aylmer) were ordered to vacate the building where we have met for decades to worship our Lord. To God be the glory, He is worthy of all our praise.”
Another sad day in Canadian history. This afternoon we (the congregation of the Church of God at Aylmer) were ordered to vacate the building where we have met for decades to worship our Lord.
To God be the glory, He is worthy of all our praise.#StandWithGod pic.twitter.com/ExlqfNiX35
— Pastor Henry Hildebrandt (@aylmerpastor) May 14, 2021
Canadian MP Derek Sloan, who has publicly supported other pastors in Canada who have been punished for holding church services, condemned the treatment of Hildebrandt’s church, writing, “Police have come to the Church of God in Aylmer, forced the congregants to leave, and seized the church. We are all less free because of this despicable abuse of power. As [Hildebrandt] says, this is a very sad day for Canada.”
Police have come to the Church of God in Aylmer, forced the congregants to leave, and seized the church. We are all less free because of this despicable abuse of power. As @aylmerpastor says, this is a very sad day for Canada.#cdnpoli #EndTheLockdownshttps://t.co/uci0OIZlyo
— MP Derek Sloan (@DerekSloanCPC) May 14, 2021
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