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Pastor jailed for in-person services is released to applause from other inmates

Canadian Pastor James Coates, held in prison for holding in-person church services, is speaking out after his release.

Coates, a pastor at GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, left the jail to thunderous applause from other inmates. He shared the experience during an interview with Sheila Gunn Reid.

“Just to kind of show the affection that we had for each other, in the moment I was leaving, I turned around … and I lifted up my hand to wave,” he recalled, “and the doors of the pod began to shake as the men in their cells just banged on their doors as a sign of support, love, [and] affection.”

Pastor Coates said he was with the jail chaplain when it happened and both men were shaken by the moment.

“He’s emailed me since then and shared with me that he’ll never forget that moment,” Coates explained. “It was precious to me as well. That just gives you a little picture of how they thought toward me and treated me.”

Reid asked the pastor if he ever got the opportunity to minister to the inmates inside the jail. In response, Coates said some of the men came to the door of his cell “often.”

“Once I got into [general public], I would have guys often come to my door and want to speak with me and would share difficulties in their life with me, and I would share the Gospel with them,” he said. “We’d be talking through a door to each other, but I would share the Gospel with them. That happened often, where guys would just come to me.”

The preacher went on to explain there was an inmate in the cell next door who asked him to lead a Bible study. When Coates sat down with the man at a table in the common area, where they began reading from the New Testament book of John, he said three or four other men joined them.

Overall, he said, he had “lots of opportunities to share the Gospel.”

Coates was released last Monday, following the Alberta government’s decision to drop its criminal charges against the minister. He is, though, still facing financial charges for violating health orders.

GraceLife is also facing charges for violating COVID mandates, which ordered the church to limit its occupancy to 15% of the church’s total capacity.

GoFundMe campaign set up for Coates has raised more than $45,000.

John Klassen, who set up the fundraiser, described Coates as “a rare and refreshing voice of courage in these [unprecedented] times,” adding, “He has stood on the Word of God faithfully, courageously, and uncompromisingly as a man of God when, all around him, men falter and fail. Pastor James is facing what not too long ago would have been unheard of.”

As for Coates, his opportunities to minister to the inmates confirms a letter he sent to GraceLife in mid-March. In the letter, he wrote, “Pray for my release, but also that I would be given the opportunity and boldness to proclaim the blessed Gospel, making it clear to the hearers.”

The month-long prison sentence for the pastor has drawn attention to continuing in-person church restrictions in place across much of Canada.

–CBN News Service