By Emily Wierenga | Thursday , September 10 , 2009
CALGARY, AB—A group of ragtag missionaries from Calgary are on trial for giving out food and using an amplifier to spread the gospel amongst the city’s 5,000 homeless.
The court case, which began May 20, has been extended to the fall in order to try 80 bylaw charges and provincial offences incurred over the last three years by the Street Church. The date for the case’s re-opening has not been set.
"We’re hoping the judge will hear the gospel, and everyone else in the court," says 47-year-old Bogdan Stobiecki, a who leads the ministry alongside Artur Pawlowski, 36.
Defence lawyers Rebecca Snukal and Michael Bates say the tickets received by the ministry for everything from jaywalking to giving away free goods and services in a park without a permit violate its constitutional rights.
"The real issue is freedom of rights and freedom of association," Bates told press during Pawlowski’s hearing, which stretched from the scheduled six days into eight.
Pawlowski testified that the nature of the Street Church ensured amplification as an essential part of his freedom of religion. Meanwhile lawyers for the City of Calgary argued that Pawlowski’s religious rights didn’t include the need to amplify his voice. The results of the hearing will be announced in October.
Calgary’s Street Church, which ministers weekly to upwards of 1,000 homeless, was founded in 2002 when Pawlowski and Stobiecki began sharing the gospel in parks and bars. By 2006 the group had mushroomed to 200 volunteers and multiple ministry locations. Today, in spite of being banned from local parks, the church continues to serve four days a week on the steps of City Hall.
Dubbed the "loudspeaker preacher," Pawlowski says he is familiar with oppression, having fled Poland as a young man.
"Coming from a communist regime, seeing soldiers and tanks on the streets, witnessing minority ruling over majority with destruction, loving Canada with all my heart, having my own family and house in this country, being in the perfect will of my Father in heaven, I have an obligation to stand for what is right," says Pawlowski, father of two.
"To preach the gospel like Jesus commanded and tell people about the ways of the Lord so they can have peace and righteousness."
Both Pawlowski and Stobiecki have struggled with alcoholism. Stobiecki, who has done missions in Europe, Russia and Israel, says, "Jesus has told me to go and share the healing I’ve received with these people. He came to heal the broken-hearted, and there are so many broken-hearted on the streets. They run from the memory of what has been done to them."
The homeless are those who have fallen into life’s ditches, he continues. The goal of the Street Church is to help them up.
And, in spite of the current trial which could forbid the church from ministering anywhere in the province, that goal remains steadfast.
"We believe that the justice system is still just, and that they will give our freedoms back," says Pawlowski.