A Canadian pastor who was arrested for holding an outdoor worship service after authorities ordered his church building to be closed has been released from jail and expressed gratitude to God for sustaining his congregation.
Tim Stephens, who serves as pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, spent the weekend with his family and church about two weeks after he was arrested, Rebel News reported.
He was arrested on June 14 after refusing to abide by the order from Alberta Health Services to refrain from holding worship services that didn’t comply with the provincial COVID-19 restrictions at the time.
Police in a helicopter discovered where Stephens was holding worship gatherings and arrested him soon thereafter from his home, as his children witnessed the arrest and cried.
“Today is a very thankful day,” Rebel News quoted the pastor as saying. “I’m thankful that the restrictions are done and rescinded, including the court orders that go along with that.”
“[M]ost of all, I’m thankful for God,” he added. “I’m thankful that He’s built His church, that He’s sustained our church at Fairview Baptist Church. I’m thankful that He strengthened me, my wife, and our family, and that, through this, people have come to know the saving love of the Lord Jesus Christ. People have been strengthened in this country and around the world, and so, for these many reasons, I’m thankful.”
On June 5, Stephens had 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.”
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.”
During his confinement, 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.”
Stephens is not the only Canadian pastor to face legal consequences for holding in-person worship services.
The pastor of a church in Aylmer, Ontario, faced 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 ongoing coronavirus worship restrictions.
Pawlowski has angrily confronted local police and public health officials who showed up at his church in two viral videos and was eventually arrested for holding an “illegal” in-person gathering.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri recently urged the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider placing Canada on its Watch List due to its continued lockdown restrictions, arrests of Christian pastors and seizure of church property.
“I am troubled that our Canadian neighbors are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship,” Hawley said in his letter to the USCIRF. “Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada. Canadian authorities’ arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement actions, appear to constitute systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”