On January 1st, 2007 a man prayed with people from Calgary’s Street Church to accept Christ. He asked to be baptized immediately in the Bow River. Baptisms in the Bow are a fairly common occurrence for the ministry that preaches to the homeless in the downtown park.
The spot they use is in knee-high shallow water close to the bank of the river. They were in and out of the water in less than a minute. No one was at risk but someone called to complain. Moments later the group was swarmed by the city’s aquatic rescue unit complete with power boat and suited divers, firefighters, a police cruiser with two officers and an ambulance with fully staffed paramedics.
This may seem like a random encounter, but not for the leaders of the Street Church. They’ve been running headfirst into challenges with police and by-law officials since they started their ministry four years ago.
Street Church is presently facing a court battle with the city over the revoking of the group’s 2007 permit to continue holding its outdoor services in Triangle Park across from the Calgary Drop-In Centre by the Bow River.
"On February 5th, a judge will decide if this is a violation of our civil rights," said Art Pawlowski, pastor of the church.
When the group started preaching with the assistance of a PA system that’s when the ongoing trouble began.
"We’re feeding thousands of people a month," Pawlowski noted. "We supply clothes and other things. We work with different churches and housing projects. We take people from the streets to those housing projects. So far we’ve helped hundreds get off the street. Now it seems like there is a witch hunt against us."
Two homosexuals came to the Street Church leaders and told them they didn’t like them and promised to make life difficult for the church.
"They said they were going to phone the officials every time they saw us from their apartment on the other side of the river," Pawlowski said.
"They said to me, ‘we will drive the officials crazy until they kick you out.’
Since that moment, almost every time we are there we have by-law officers, police or detectives recording our messages and taking our pictures."
"This is not only a fight for the Gospel, which is our primary focus, this is a fight for democracy in this country as well," the street preacher observed. "If they will take away your freedom of speech, your freedom of religion and freedom of assembly there goes your democracy. You’re living under a dictatorship; under a regime; under a police government."
Lawyer Gerald Chipeur told the Calgary Herald that the decision by the city goes to the very heart of the church’s ability to communicate. "This is outrageous. It’s an abuse of power by the city," he said.
Chipeur has participated as an advocate in some of the Supreme Court of Canada’s most important constitutional and human rights appeals including lending his support to Rev. Stephen Boissoin during his hearing before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for publicly sharing his views on the gay agenda.
Chipeur’s firm is representing the Street Church ministry.
Pawlowski has also made an appearance in court after being arrested for reading his Bible out loud in a park near a New Age festival last year. That case is still awaiting trial.
This street preacher isn’t afraid of the confrontation he’s been encountering.
He’s not looking for it, but he’s not backing down from it either. He has a firm belief that he is called to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ and has a civil right to do so.
His style of ministry has already ruffled a bunch of feathers in Calgary but he’s not about to go away.
Street Church’s website: www.streetchurch.ca