Police nowhere in sight as Aylmer Ont. church holds fourth drive-in service

During Thursday's proceedings, Justice Bruce Thomas said pastor Henry Hildebrandt uses his pulpit "to exert an argument to others to follow his example.". Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

The parking lot at the Church of God in Aylmer Ont., was jammed-packed with vehicles Sunday morning as the church held its fourth drive-in service during the coronavirus pandemic — but police were not among them.

Aylmer police and the church have had previous discussions regarding whether drive-in services were breaking a section of the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which states all gatherings of more than five people to conduct religious services, rites or ceremonies are banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario hold drive-in service despite police warning

The pastor of the church, Henry Hildebrandt, was vocal Sunday morning about his thoughts on churches being deemed as a non-essential service by the province of Ontario when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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“What went through your mind when you saw in the paper that church was non-essential?” Hildebrandt asked congregants while standing on a large podium outside the church.

“I tell you what… something rose up in the Christians across this country. ‘What did you just say?! Church is non-essential?!'”

A sign outside the Church of God in Aylmer Ont., comparing churches to services that were deemed essential by the provide amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Sawyer Bogdan/980 CFPL

Congregants would toot their car horns on repeat for several seconds throughout the one-hour service.

A video and audio live stream was also made available online.

There was also a part of the service when Hildebrandt left the stand and walked around the parking lot while addressing the crowd in their cars.

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The Church of God introduced drive-in services last month, and prior to its third service on April 26, the pastor, as well as Aylmer police, confirmed to 980 CFPL 15 that complaints were made to police by people worried that provincial orders were violated.

Police had advised the church to cancel its third drive-in service, but the church went ahead anyway and welcomed at least 61 cars as police closely monitored and videotaped the situation.

Insp. Nick Novacich with Aylmer Police Service told Global News last week that they were reviewing the video footage to see “what course of action we need to take as a result,” and that “a summons will be issued to the persons that need to be summoned for breaching” a portion of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

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Aylmer police also confirmed they were consulting with the Crown attorney’s office.

However, police later announced they would not fine the church despite determining they have “reasonable and probable grounds” to do so.

In a written statement, Aylmer police said they have “decided to use the incident on the 26th of April as an educational tool for the ‘Church of God’ organizers and parishioners, so they have a clear understanding that the gathering is in violation of the emergency order.”

An aerial image captures a full parking lot at the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., as drive-in church service takes place Sunday, April 26, 2020. Church of God/Provided

The Church of God’s fourth drive-in service saw more vehicles than its previous services. Some cars were forced to park by the side of the road due to the lack of parking space.

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Parishioners were 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.

After the service, Hildebrandt briefly spoke about the police.

“I am not worried about them charging me. If they [were to] charge me, let the people who know how to handle that [handle it], let it go through the courts, whatever it takes. I just know what we’re doing is right.”

Hildebrandt stated the reasoning for not cancelling drive-in services and only conducting live streams is due to live streams lacking a sense of community.

The pastor also claimed the church’s parking lot was the “safest parking lot in town this morning.”

980 CFPL has reached out to Aylmer police for comments.

–With files from 980 CFPL’s Sawyer Bogdan


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