Creston, BC: During December 2020, David Ripley and his wife Gina intently read the recent orders issued by Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. David is the Pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship, in Creston, BC. The Orders prohibited in-person worship services – entirely. How would these prohibitions against gatherings impact their congregation? The isolation parishioners faced from lockdowns and restrictions in Canada’s coldest season were taking their toll. With 35 years in the ministry, Pastor Ripley and Gina carefully considered their pastoral responsibilities.
After scrutinizing the latest Health Order, they noticed that “individual attendance at a place of worship for the purpose of prayer or quiet reflection” was exempted from the gathering prohibitions. Pastor Ripley checked with the local authorities, and was assured by all of them that opening the sanctuary for prayer and reflection was permitted.
After these consultations, the leadership of Grace Christian Fellowship opened the sanctuary for an hour on Sunday mornings to allow parishioners to attend for prayer and reflection. This was not a worship service: no preaching, no singing. People prayed and read scriptures.
But on December 22, 2020, the RCMP called Pastor Ripley to address complaints of worship services at Grace Christian Fellowship. Pastor Ripley explained that the activities were not worship services, and rather that the Church was in full compliance with all the required protocols. The corporal asked the length and time the sanctuary was open, and then told Pastor Ripley to proceed.
On January 3, 2021, as a small number of individuals attended Grace Christian Fellowship for prayer and reflection, two RCMP cruisers pulled up on the property. Gina Ripley met the officers and showed them the Health Order to which the congregation was adhering, which permitted attendance at houses of worship for prayer and reflection.
The officers stated there were “too many cars in the parking lot” and threatened if that did not change by the next week, they would issue a ticket. Gina asked them what precise number of cars were permitted. The officers said they did not know and would answer in an email. That email never came.
Later that same afternoon, the RCMP officers arrived at the Ripleys’ residence and issued Pastor Ripley a ticket, fining him $2,300 for allegedly violating the Provincial Health Order.
Pastor Ripley maintained that he had done nothing wrong and had complied with the terms of the Order, which he had confirmed with every office of authority available to him. He had been given a green light for exactly what they were doing.
Despite this, police and BC Crown Prosecutors have pursued the charges against Pastor Ripley.
After more than a dozen preliminary court appearances by Justice Centre lawyers on behalf of Pastor Ripley, and the filing of a Notice of Constitutional Question challenging the constitutionality of Dr. Henry’s Order, the first phase of the trial to determine whether Pastor Ripley violated the Order was set to run on November 22-23, 2022, at the Creston Law Courts. But on November 15, 2022, the Crown dropped the charge against Pastor Ripley.