'Good news': Calgary church leader stands by AHS' decision to close GraceLife

The minister at Calgary's Knox United Church says church leaders need to follow the government's orders regarding the pandemic out of respect of public health and safety.

The leader of a Calgary church says the move to install fencing around a Spruce Grove, Alta. church that has been holding gatherings in contravention of the province's public health order was the right one to make, but it was a shame it took so long.

On Wednesday morning, Alberta Health Services (AHS), with the support of RCMP, put up fencing around GraceLife Church following repeated violations of the Chief Medical Officer of Health's (CMOH) Public Health Orders.

In a statement to CTV News, AHS said it had received more than 105 complaints about the church and conducted 18 inspections, with violations noted at each one.

Many church members were present at the building when the fences went up and a Calgary church leader says it was "good news" but also "bad news" that it took so long for authorities to make the decision.

"This is good news," Rev. Dr. Greg Glatz, the minister at Knox United Church, wrote in a statement. "The bad news is that it took so long for AHS to act."

Glatz figures it took nearly four months before AHS enforced the orders that were "flagrantly, arrogantly and repeatedly ignored."

He went on to say its leaders used "the guise of religious freedom" to protect themselves while ignoring biblical references regarding obeying governing authorities.

"I think it's important for order and good government to show that we are working with government and its public health orders as much as we can," said Glatz in an interview with CTV News.

"I think that when a church takes an anti-government stance or an anti-science stance or an anti-medicine stance, it's really putting its own members at risk and it's putting order in society at risk as well."

'LITTLE REGARD FOR HEALTH AND SAFETY'

The situation has also been very damaging to churches in general, Glatz adds.

"A lot of my friends know I'm a minister and they've been openly critical on social media on churches and they tend to brand churches in general this way because of this example that shows so little regard for health and public safety," he said.

Over the past weekend, GraceLife Church held another crowded service for Easter Sunday, with the parking lot filled with vehicles and a number of members inside ignoring rules about masking and physical distancing.

James Coates, the church's pastor who was jailed for several weeks for breaking the COVID-19 public health orders, led the service.

When it came to his church's Easter Service, Glatz says they had a small service with musicians, within regulations inside Knox. It was also livestreamed for the members who could enjoy it from home.

"We were able to connect not only in Calgary but across the country and across the world."

It was the second Easter service that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Glatz says there are more important things to worry about.

"Public health and safety is more important than being in the same room together."

According to Alberta's current COVID-19 regulations, places of worship are allowed to host services with 15 per cent capacity, physical distancing and masks.