Police blocked congregants from attending a drive-in church service at a church in rural Manitoba, Canada, on Sunday morning.
As depicted in a Facebook video, police blocked cars from entering the parking lot of the Church of God Steinbach, forcing them to line up on the adjacent street to listen to Senior Pastor Heinrich Hildebrandt preach from over a loudspeaker, according to The Christian Post.
“God has given us the right to worship Him together and He wants to see His people united,” Hildebrandt preached. “It seems like we’re living in a different Canada. It’s very heartbreaking to me.”
The Church of God at Steinbach, which is about 40 miles southeast of Winnipeg in Steinbach, Manitoba, was fined $5,000 last week for holding services in defiance of what Hildebrandt described as “draconian and unconstitutional orders.”
As of Friday, there are 15,632 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba, 266 deaths, and 6,487 recoveries. Gatherings of more than five people are banned in Manitoba, and churches have been ordered closed, according to CBC.
In an open letter published Nov. 23, Hildebrandt wrote in part:
The COVID-19 crisis has rapidly changed a lot of what our society considers normal and essential in 2020. Faith communities have not been unaffected, in fact they have been singled out in many cases across the world and especially in Canada and certain states, south of the border. The Bible teaches Christians to be good citizens and obey the reasonable demands of our government. It does not, however, teach blind obedience to the authorities when onerous restrictions are placed on our freedoms. In fact, we are guaranteed the right to religious freedom and peaceful assembly in the Canadian Constitution, subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. We now find ourselves debating what constitutes a justifiable, reasonable limit.
The question is, what is essential? If faith and the communal expression of faith is not essential during times of crisis, is this an attack on faith? We are not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment. Christians have always believed that their faith and the reasonable expression of that faith is essential to their mental health and well-being and that being arbitrarily separated from each other is detrimental to them. On Sunday morning, people in this province interacted at Walmart, Costco, and other retailers. The same thing happened at the local liquor store, cannabis dispensaries, and the list goes on. Yet, it is our faith community that is singled out for public criticism, media attention, and visits by the RCMP, Manitoba Public Health and local bylaw enforcement. There must be an allowable expression of faith that is deemed essential while we are allowing the sale of products at establishments that exist solely for the sale of alcohol, coffee, donuts, cannabis, and fast food.
We are grateful to our law enforcement officers for their dedication to public service, especially during this crisis. We urge them to continue resisting the enforcement of these draconian and unconstitutional orders.
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