Church has to remove tent from property outside Saint John after court appearance

After flouting pandemic rules in Saint John, Higher Life Church, formerly known as His Tabernacle Family Church, ended up holding services in this tent outside the city limits, starting in the fall of 2022.  (Philip Hutchings/Kijiji - image credit)
After flouting pandemic rules in Saint John, Higher Life Church, formerly known as His Tabernacle Family Church, ended up holding services in this tent outside the city limits, starting in the fall of 2022. (Philip Hutchings/Kijiji - image credit)

The Municipality of Fundy-St. Martins went to court this week to force Philip Hutchings to remove a tent his church had been using for services.

Officials had applied to the Court of King's Bench for an order to remove the tent, alleging it contravenes the Community Planning Act, the Building Code Administration Act or both.

They also alleged the church violated the Nuisance Bylaw with all of the noise generated by gatherings.

In the end, both sides came to a quick and amicable agreement on Tuesday, explained lawyer Jonathan Martin, who represented Hutchings and his wife, Jamie, on the application.

Martin said the couple agreed to take down the tent within three months and to empty the contents of the tent within 30 days.

He said Hutchings is currently trying to sell the tent.

In fact, Hutchings has posted ads on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace listing the tent — and the land it sits on — for sale.

One of the pictures in the ad for the sale of the tent once used for church services by Higher Life Church, previously known as His Tabernacle Family Church.
One of the pictures in the ad for the sale of the tent once used for church services by Higher Life Church, previously known as His Tabernacle Family Church.

In his listing on Kijiji, Philip Hutchings posted this picture of the inside of the tent once used for church services by Higher Life Church. (Philip Hutchings/Kijiji)

The tent is listed for $25,000 and the "6+ acres with Dome" for $229,900, although the MLS listing is for $194,900.

An email was sent to Higher Life, requesting an interview with Hutchings, but no one has responded.

Formerly known as His Tabernacle Family Church, Higher Life Church had been operating out of the tent at 28 Base Rd., a rural road outside Saint John city limits, near the intersection with Route 825.

Neighbours around the Garnett Settlement property have long complained about the thumping music and raucous sermons.

Fundy-St. Martins Mayor Jim Bedford said there were about 100 complaints from neighbours about the noise.

The outline of the property owned by Higher Life Church Inc. at 28 Base Rd. in Garnett Settlement, which is part of the municipality of Fundy-St. Martins.
The outline of the property owned by Higher Life Church Inc. at 28 Base Rd. in Garnett Settlement, which is part of the municipality of Fundy-St. Martins.

The outline of the property owned by Higher Life Church Inc. at 28 Base Rd. in Garnett Settlement, which is part of the municipality of Fundy-St. Martins. (Kijiji)

He said the RCMP responded to calls every weekend — and sometimes on Wednesdays — for about seven or eight months straight.

"There was a lot of complaints," Bedford said. "It was every weekend. I know that even on Christmas Day we had complaints from the residents that they couldn't enjoy their Christmas dinner because the music was so loud."

He said the only thing the municipality asked the church was to turn down the volume "so the residents could enjoy their quality of life, but that just didn't go anywhere, so we ended up having to take that to court."

Bedford said the RCMP even went to the neighbourhood with a sound meter to measure the level of the noise, and "it was way exceeding our bylaw. So something had to be done."

Shawna Roy was one of the residents who filed affidavits in the court case.

Philip Hutchings's Kijiji ad for the sale of 28 Base Rd. and the tent that sits on the property.
Philip Hutchings's Kijiji ad for the sale of 28 Base Rd. and the tent that sits on the property.

Philip Hutchings's Kijiji ad for the sale of 28 Base Rd. and the tent that sits on the property. (Philip Hutchings/Kijiji)

Roy, who lived at 20 Mills Ave., said the noise was so bad, "in a move of desperation," she sold her home and moved to Quispamsis.

"The noise from the Church has caused me and [my] young children immense stress," she wrote in her affidavit.

She said she recognized Hutchings's voice and heard him "encouraging his followers to cheer and get louder during the services on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evenings. During one particular sermon, I heard Philip James Hutchings scream 'Garnett Settlement is our enemy, they don't want us here.'"

Another resident said the constant noise and thumping music interfered with the bedtimes and nap times of her three young children.

"The constant noise from the Church is mentally exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming. I have thought about relocating as I feel disrespected in my home as I moved her for peace and that has been taken from us due to the Church's noise."

The history

The church's move to the country setting came after a period spent having services in a tent on Ashburn Lake Road. That was after they were shut down for not complying with pandemic protocols while still operating out of the former Holy Trinity Church building on Rockland Road in Saint John.

The plan was to build a permanent structure on the land at 28 Base Rd., which extends from route 111  and 128 between the Saint John Airport and St. Martins.

In November 2022, the local service commission issued a one-year permit for the church to use the tent for gatherings while they worked on the new church building.

When that permit expired in November 2023, construction of the new building hadn't even started, the tent remained and the church continued to hold services in it.

So, while the tent may "initially have been exempt" from the Building Code, once the permit expired, it became subject to the act and was not in compliance, according to affidavits from municipal officials.

The day after the one-year permit expired, the municipality gave the church an order to remove the tent by Dec. 6, 2023.

Although Hutchings tried to apply for another permit, the municipality said he did not provide all of the requested information and the application remained incomplete.

According to its website, the church is now holding services at 440 Gondola Point Rd., listed on property records as belonging to Eastgate House of Prayer Mission Base.