For the first time in three weeks congregants at the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont. didn't enter the church Sunday.
"This drive-in service is gesture of conciliation not an act of consent,” says Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, from a stage outside the church.
The church was hit with an interim court order by the Ministry of the Attorney General Friday and officials could have been in contempt of court if they defied the Reopening Ontario Act.
“It was decided to have this drive-in service to offer an olive branch so when they convene next Friday, they can have something to convene about and talk about and to judge about," says Hildebrandt.
This coming week the crown will be back in court looking to make this order permanent.
"We be back in court next Friday to see whether a final order should be made," says Lisa Bildy, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) who is representing the church.
"We are raising constitutional arguments in this proceedings."
The JCCF is representing the Church of God as well as Trinity Bible Chapel (TBC) in Waterloo. The TBC has openly breached the court order and have been found in contempt. Sentencing is this week.
"It can result in imprisonment, but so can charges under Reopening Ontario Act," says Bildy.
"I don't think anyone is going to be putting pastors in prison. Obviously police and government are thinking of the long game as well and they don't want those optics.
In theory this is a very serious escalation, but the consequences practically speaking are not any more serious than charges they have already been hit with."
Aylmer police officers were on standby Sunday but did not have to act.
"We just want everyone do their part and abide by emergency orders,” says Nick Novacich, deputy police chief with Aylmer Police Service.
"At no time has any church been told they can't have a service. They just have to have a drive-in service or by zoom or any way they can."
Hildebrandt did raise some eyebrows of those watching online when he said he 'is essential.'
"Any true pastor surpasses any other front-line worker," says Hildebrandt. If you say you disagree its only because something upstairs isn't functioning."
Update from Aylmer police on Feb. 7 service:
On 7th of February 2021 Church of God pastor held a service at the church situated on John St. North Aylmer ON. There were approximately 100 vehicles with occupants inside who attended the drive in service. Aylmer Police monitored the service and there were no violations of Emergency Orders observed. A small number of onlookers were also present and parked along the shoulder of the road. There were no reported incidents.
Community safety and well being and enforcement of laws is our top priority during this global pandemic. Aylmer Police will continue to monitor events at the church to ensure compliance with current Emergency and Legislative Orders.