All members of the Elders Board of a Waterloo, Ont., church are facing charges after they continued to hold in-person worship gatherings despite health orders currently limiting gatherings.
"Yesterday evening, all six of the elders of Trinity Bible Chapel were charged under Section 10.1 of the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA) for holding church services on Sunday, December 27," the church says in a New Year's Eve press release.
The church has been holding in-person gatherings since June. Waterloo regional police say they saw "numbers far exceeding the limits of the province-wide restrictions" when they went to the church on December 27. Religious services are currently limited to 10 people or less for both indoor and outdoor services, and social distancing must be practiced.
"We are peaceful family men seeking to pastorally care for our families and our church in sincere obedience to God," Pastor Jacob Reaume says. "We are not criminals. Officers from the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS) showed up at each of our homes last night at roughly 8pm and gave us each a summons to court."
Reaume says while other pastors in Ontario have faced similar charges, he believes this is the first time an entire elders board has been charged.
"For years we have taught our children to respect police, and now our children and grandchildren are witnesses to their fathers and grandfathers receiving charges from police for worshipping Christ with our church. It is a dark day for Waterloo Region and Ontario."
The church says they have not had a single case of COVID-19 traced back to their gatherings. "Instead, we have heard a plethora of stories from many of our congregants about how they were negatively affected spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and financially during the first lockdown."
Despite the charges, the church held services again on January 3.
"Look, we can't close the church doors in a time of despair," Reaume says in an email to CTV. "If there's a price to be paid, there's a price to be paid.
"We plan on keeping the doors open as long as they don't barr us by force."