A former Winnipeg minister is receiving widespread attention for criticizing an Alberta church that has repeatedly broken provincial public health orders.
Greg Glatz, formerly a minister at Westminster United Church and Central Baptist Church, doesn’t like being critical of another congregation. However, he says, the actions of GraceLife Church, a non-denominational church near Edmonton, have to be addressed.
"It needs to be done," said Glatz, now minister at Knox United Church in Calgary. "What they are doing is so dangerous and ridiculous."
GraceLife has held large meetings, despite COVID-19 pandemic orders in Alberta limiting gathering sizes for places of worship — including two packed services over Easter.
In February, its pastor, James Coates, was jailed 35 days for ignoring guidelines including indoor mask requirements.
On April 7, health inspectors and police ordered the church closed, fenced off its grounds and posted a guard — which prompted about 400 people to protest outside.
"I think it was long overdue and it needed to be done," Glatz said of the government’s decision.
"It makes no sense that a church would have to take a hard stand, and say in the name of faithfulness to God or in the name of faithfulness to our congregation: we have to defy public health orders," he said.
On April 11, church members held a clandestine in-person service at an undisclosed location. A video recording of the service was posted on the internet.
GraceLife held another secret service outdoors on April 18. In a video, Coates can be seen bundled in a coat, scarf and gloves against the cold. Although the camera never shows the congregation, he tells people to "open your Bibles" and prays he is "thankful to be able to come together like this today."
Under current restrictions, outdoor gatherings in Alberta are limited to 10 people, although places of worship can hold drive-in services if people stay in their cars. It isn’t clear if that was the case with the second service.
Glatz is also critical of GraceLife’s "bad theology," for how it claims it is only following the Bible’s injunction for believers not to neglect gathering together.
By insisting on meeting in person, GraceLife is "poorly justifying it’s theological position" and courting "potentially serious consequences," he said.
For his outspokenness, Glatz has been called "evil" and "Satan." But he has also heard privately from other clergy who are grateful for his public comments.
Another person speaking up is Winnipegger Bill Blaikie, also a United Church minister and former member of Parliament. In a statement, Blaikie called what the Edmonton church is doing "cheap martyrdom, not to mention selective ignorance of traditionally important biblical texts."
"It is not a sign of the Holy Spirit when you become famous for disobeying public health orders designed to limit the spread of disease and death," he said.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.