The desk sat empty. The lights turned off. The doors remain locked.
That morning, Pastor James did not report to work. He could not. In fact, his work for the Lord that morning took place elsewhere. He sat in a jail cell in Edmonton, Alberta. Pastor James Coates was arrested for leading church worship that contravened an Alberta public health order.
On February 14, 2021, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Health Services concluded that GraceLife Church defied COVID-19 restrictions (GraceLife is about 12 hours northeast of Bellingham). They determined the church violated the 15% gathering limit and mask-use requirement. Pastor James turned himself in on February 16. He did not accept the bail conditions (highlighted here). James Kitchen, his lawyer, spoke for our brothers and sisters up north when he said “they are not going to cease worshipping God as they believe they have been commanded to do, simply because the government says so.”
Faithful obedience to the Word of God brings persecution. Pastor James Coates is an example of this. Pastor James and his elders studied the biblical commands for gathering and weighed the risks of doing so. Eric Davis, a writer at “The Cripplegate” observes: “Pastor Coates may have made a different decision than we would, but he did not make a biblically impermissible decision. Together, in love, with his elders and church members, he made a biblically permissible decision, and they are being persecuted for it.”
This should be an incredible encouragement to us. GraceLife meets to worship Jesus Christ—at risk to personal comforts, finances, and health. This should challenge us and motivate us. It should also move us to prayer. The Lord says “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3). We are duty-bound, by our adoption into God’s family, to remember this brother in Christ.
Pray for Pastor James, his wife, Erin, and their children. You can hear more from Erin’s experience by clicking on the video below. Her understanding of what a church is and why it is so important is fluent and instructive.
When Christ comes, may He find us faithful (Luke 18:8). Be prepared, believer! May your courage and confidence in Jesus Christ multiply. With the affection of Christ, Pastor Michael