On January 20, 2022, Richardson was fined $3,000 (plus lawyers’ fees). In response to this court ruling, Richardson wrote on his Twitter account: “Thank you for your prayers. I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of support in prayer that I have received in the last few days. Praise God for a wonderful outcome: That I was allowed to address the court in Jesus’ name, and that I came away with a very small fine.”
In 2021, Pastor Steve Richardson of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tillsonburg, Ontario, was initially charged with two counts of exceeding the 10-person limit for church services that were conducted in the church building. Other charges were brought against Richardson for holding services outside. Each charge had a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000, bringing the potential total to six years imprisonment and $600,000 in fines.
Here is an update on Pastor Richardson’s case: On January 20, 2022, Richardson was fined $3,000 (plus lawyers’ fees). In response to this court ruling, Richardson wrote on his Twitter account: “Thank you for your prayers. I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of support in prayer that I have received in the last few days. Praise God for a wonderful outcome: That I was allowed to address the court in Jesus’ name, and that I came away with a very small fine.”
Richardson detailed more about his experiences on his blog:
I want to offer here a brief update regarding my court case. I do so with a measure of trepidation. I have heard some say that if I believe my cause is just I should just quietly accept the penalty. Some might think my updates have been motivated by pride. They may feel that what I have done – in keeping my church open – was wrong and that spreading the word about my charges is self-serving and arrogant. I can say this with a fair degree of certainty. Such men do not know my heart. If they did I expect they would find it worse even then they believe. I am nowhere near the man I would like to be, and if there is anything praiseworthy in me it is by the grace of God. The truth is I am probably far more proud than I know. Though I want to eschew pride, and while I desire humility, pride seems strangely natural to sinful men. But I also know what motivated me through 2020 and 2021; and I can say that at every step I acted in faith, with sincerity and with an eye to the glory of God. I can only hope and pray that I have not gotten in the way of the honour and praise that belongs only to Him.
Many readers will know that I was charged 6 times for keeping the church open during lockdowns. I had continued to worship through 2020, but it was not until December of 2020 that the police began to really pay attention to us. Each of the charges carried a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison and 100,000 dollars in fines. Cumulatively I faced a maximum of 6 years and 600,000 dollars.
Initially I opted to contest the charges as being unconstitutional. However, when my relationship with Faith Presbyterian Church was severed this became an impossibility. After a great deal of discussion with my lawyers, with other pastors and with my wife I decided that it was best to plead guilty. Though I had not broken God’s law, there was no question that I had broken provincial regulations. And my lawyer told me my case was not winnable. If I were to lose – which I was assured I would – it would set a bad precedent for other pastors who had a better chance at trial. It was agreed that I would plead guilty on the condition that I be allowed to (briefly) address the court. This was against the advice of my lawyers, as they understood that it would not likely help my case. Still, I felt constrained by conscience and love for my Redeemer to speak for Him. For me this was the most important thing. Not that I be spared a severe penalty or even jail time, but that I should honour Christ.
Early this week my stomach was in knots. The lawyers assured me that the fine would be small and that I would not face jail time. Still I recognized there was a small possibility that my statement would anger the judge and that he (having the authority to decide on the sentence) could make things bad for me. I am a family man and the thought of prison is not appealing to the flesh. Early on I had researched a local Ontario prison; so I had an idea of the kind of cell that would become home if I did have to do time. And of course I could imagine the trial of prolonged separation from my wife and children. As unlikely as it was, the fact that James Coates and Tim Stephens had both spent time in jail, suggested to me (at least) that it wasn’t an impossibility. I didn’t know what the judge might ask me, but I knew I could not agree to any kind of compromise. If asked I would do it again. The principles that governed my behaviour in 2020 and 2021 had not changed.
Then Wednesday came, and part way through the day it was as if I could sense the prayers of the saints. I knew many were praying as I had heard from a number of them… but it seemed that the Lord was very near. I felt a tremendous peace and even joy. I was overcome with a sense of the worth of Jesus Christ. He was worthy; and that is all that mattered.
This morning as I prepared for court I was filled with a desire to be allowed to suffer for Christ. It was not a carnal martyr’s complex or anything like a fleshly desire for man’s praise. I just felt an intense longing to be allowed to follow in His steps, to be counted worthy to suffer for Him and perhaps even to be given a prison ministry. The thought filled me with joy.
I cannot tell you what a blessing it was to go to court (online) with my Bible open at 1 Peter 4:12-16, knowing that cause was just, and keenly aware of the prayers of the saints. Our God is faithful, and He is indeed a prayer hearing God!
When I appeared in court this morning the judge indicated that I would be allowed to give my statement after sentencing. However, the crown had not seen what I had prepared to say and asked to see it. When he and the judge looked at what I had prepared they decided that I should read it before sentencing.
Here is what I said:
Thank you sir. I have always believed it is my duty as a Christian to honour civil authorities, to pray for them and to obey all their laws except where those laws come into conflict with God’s laws. I deeply desire to be on the right side of the law. But my allegiance belongs ultimately to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
If I were to comply with regulations that limit the number of those who can gather for worship, prayer and fellowship, or regulations that would limit what goes on when we do, I would be derelict in my duties as a Christian pastor. That is something for which I would one day have to answer to God. I do not want to disobey my civil authorities, but I cannot and will not dishonour and disobey my King. He died to save me from my sins, and I love Him for it. I owe Him everything and I count it a joy to live and die in His service.
I was amazed when I was finished to hear the judge say “thank you very much.” He then proceeded with his own statement and the sentencing. After a bit of a preamble the prosecutor was advised that my statement indicated I would do it again and that the crown might want to use it in the future if needed. That, he said, was up to them. He then explained that I would have to pay $3000.00 (plus costs & surcharges).
I see this as a tremendous answer to prayer. Certainly the court was wrong. They were lenient (for which I am thankful), but their decision to sentence me for gathering God’s people for worship was both a violation of the Charter and an egregious sin against God. Still, I recognize that God has overruled this for good. He has mercifully spared me and my family what might have been a very severe sentence. For this we are deeply grateful. He is good, and He is most worthy!
I have been praying for those in court today. For other defendants and lawyers, for the crown and for the judge. Let us pray that Christ may have His reward. But let us also pray for our authorities both civil and ecclesiastical. Let us remember that ours is a gospel of grace. We have glad tidings of great joy and the feet which carry such good news are counted beautiful. Remember that the Saviour who came, came for sinners. He did not come for the righteous but the unrighteous. In the last 2 years we have seen injustice on the part of civil rulers and compromise on the part of pastors (and elders). But God’s grace is greater than our sins, and these too may be forgiven. Let us be praying that God would come down and that repentance and revival would spread across the nation.