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Church of God in Aylmer Ont., opts for drive-in service after receiving court order

Pastor Henry Hildebrandt made headlines early in the pandemic by holding drive-in services at Aylmer's Church of God that flouted COVID-19-related restrictions. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

A drive-in service was held at the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., Sunday morning after the church received an interim order from the Superior Court.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said in an email to Global News the ministry first sent a cease and desist letter to the church on Feb. 4 but “they did not indicate whether they would comply with the requirements.”

On Feb. 5, “the Superior Court granted an interim order restraining the Respondents from directly or indirectly contravening Ontario Regulation 82/20, by holding gatherings of more than 10 persons at, inside, or in conjunction with the operations of the Church,” the statement read.

Read more: Aylmer’s Church of God receives cease and desist letter from attorney general

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“The full hearing of the application was scheduled for Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.”

Sunday’s drive-in service came two weeks after the church held an in-person service inside the church.

On Jan. 24, a video posted onto YouTube appeared to show roughly 100 people standing in the pews inside the church.

In the video, pastor Henry Hildebrandt can be heard saying, “we’re not having service, we’re just touring.”

On Jan. 27, Aylmer police said 47 people have been identified so far in connection with the gathering that far exceeded limits in place as part of the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Coronavirus: Video shows maskless crowd inside Aylmer, Ont., church

Speaking at the drive-in service on Sunday, Hildebrandt, who is facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act, told his parishioners they are not “prisoners in their cars.”

“This drive-in service (is) a gesture of conciliation, not an act of consent,” the pastor said.

“We will not form a gathering, but you are not a prisoner (in) your car. If this parking lot is the poisonous one, then next Sunday, we are at Costco.”

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Hildebrandt continued on, calling himself an “essential, frontline worker,” and saying it would take “a lot more than a judge” to shut down the church.

“Any true pastor surpasses any other frontline worker,” he said. “I don’t care if you agree or disagree… Churches are not under the jurisdiction of the government.”

“Rulers, governors, premiers everywhere, let me put you on notice: the church is and will be gathering.”

Read more: Woolwich pastor faces fine of up to $100,000 for Sunday service ignoring COVID-19 lockdown

Under the provincewide shutdown, religious ceremonies are limited to a maximum of 10 people both inside and outside, and physical distancing must be adhered to.

The church made headlines early in the pandemic for hosting drive-in services in the church’s parking lot that defied coronavirus-related restrictions and seemingly ignored warnings from local police.

Hildebrandt himself has appeared at various anti-restriction rallies in southwestern Ontario, including one in London, as well as a rally in Aylmer that drew some 2,000 people to the town.

–With files from 980 CFPL’s Jacquelyn LeBel and Matthew Trevithick 

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Coronavirus: Video shows maskless crowd inside Aylmer, Ont., church – Jan 25, 2021