Coronavirus: Aylmer, Ont., church holds third drive-in service despite police threats of fines

Parishioners read from the bible in their vehicles in the parking lot at The Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., on Sunday, April 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins

The Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., held its third drive-in service Sunday morning despite Aylmer Police Service’s threats of a “hefty” fine and roadblocks.

Pastor Henry Hildebrandt told 980 CFPL Sunday afternoon the service “was actually very enjoyable.”

Pastor Hildebrandt (middle) at Sunday’s drive-in service. Church of God/Provided
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An aerial image captures a full parking lot at the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., as drive-in church service takes place Sunday morning (April 26). Church of God/Provided

He says around 70 vehicles pulled into the parking lot for service, and police followed suit.

“Police were there, and tried to control traffic by the road — they had a bit of a tough time doing it,” he said.

“There was so much going back and forth there. People were stopping beside the road until the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) got there and chased them away.”

The pastor says police did not attempt to block the entrance of the parking lot, but they did carry video cameras in their hands.

“Police videotaped the whole service from the beginning to the end … every car coming in and going out, they videotaped them too.

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“They said they were there to take evidence. … We don’t know what exactly they had in mind other than they were taking evidence.”

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Aylmer Police Service issued a statement Friday, highlighting a portion of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act which states it is against the law to attend a gathering of more than five people for the purposes of conducting religious services.

They did not provide any updates or additional details Sunday, nor state how much a “hefty” fine would cost for the church.

The act was announced on March 28 by the Office of the Premier of Ontario. It issued a statement and explained one of the purposes of the act was to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

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According to the church, during drive-in services, parishioners are asked to stay inside their parked vehicles in the parking lot with the windows rolled up and listen to the service through a radio signal.

Hildebrandt spoke with 980 CFPL Saturday afternoon and said the church had attempted to reach an “acceptable compromise with [police] these past six days,” but was unsuccessful.

Hildebrandt said police did not speak to him during the service Sunday morning.

He also said the church would refuse to pay if they received a fine, and would instead take it to court.

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According to CTV London, Aylmer police have said they videotaped the service to present to the local county prosecutor, and said people will be held accountable.

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980 CFPL has reached out to Aylmer Police Services as well as OPP for comment.

Hildebrandt says the church’s Sunday morning drive-in services will proceed next week.

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