The pastor at a South Bay church said in an outdoor sermon Sunday he would reopen the church for regular service next week, regardless of the status of local orders mandating public closure, and that he will “never” close the doors to his church again.
The plans announced by Pastor Mike McClure of San Jose’s Calvary Chapel were part of a larger wave of protest openings at places across the country, as some residents, business owners, church leaders and others chafe under rules that determine what’s “essential” and what’s not amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his nearly two-hour-long sermon on Sunday, as dozens of people gathered close together without masks just outside the southside church, McClure said the Bible and God call on Christians to come together despite the dangers of the virus.
“We’re called to be together,” McClure said during the sermon. “Man doesn’t have the right to close the doors.
“God doesn’t want us to isolate ourselves. All of us need to be in the sanctuary. I don’t care what they say, I’m never again going to close the doors, ever.”
McClure added that he would post federal guidelines and other notices inside the church to encourage safe behavior.
San Jose police and city officials could not immediately be reached for comment about what action they might take if the church violates standing orders.
McClure said he was eager to show off renovations that took place during the lockdown, adding that he would reopen the facility to give worshippers a place to be together and support each other.
McClure said he was also emboldened by comments President Donald Trump made on Friday declaring places of worship “essential” and saying they should be opened on the holiday weekend. McClure was clear that he would defy orders from the state and county to remain closed.
Trump’s comments came just hours after the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals split in a 2-1 ruling denying a request for a temporary restraining order against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban of in-church services. The request was filed earlier this month by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista.
“It’s conflicting because we have a government that’s arguing churches aren’t essential, though they are essential,” McClure said. “I’m going to let the President and the Governor figure that out.”
McClure said he was further emboldened by comments from Attorney General William Barr, who warned last week that religious activity could not be forced to stop while other similar activities were allowed.
“(Barr) encouraged us to meet together and that if anything happens he will get a lawyer over here to help us,” McClure said. “He said that freedom in America comes from that first right of religious freedom.”
Twenty-one-year-old church administrator Carson Atherley said Sunday that he is “well within his rights” to assemble and return to church as normal. He said that for weeks Calvary Chapel has been doing drive-up services, though on Sunday more people got out of their cars than usual and gathered for worship outside the church.
“We’re certainly following the guidelines to the extent that Costco, Target and others are applying them,” Atherley said.
But unlike most grocery stores and other essential businesses, just a handful of the people gathered outside the church Sunday had on masks or kept a distance from each other.
Asked why he allowed people to congregate without the state and county-mandated precautions, Atherley said he “is not the social distancing police or the mask police.”
“We’re going to allow people to do whatever they feel is right,” Atherley said. “We’re not promoting or condemning the use of masks or the practice of social distancing.”
Kevin and Sandee DeBella, who have been attending Calvary Chapel for years, were part of the group of people who stayed well past the end of the service to congregate with church friends they have not seen in months.
“It feels like we’re back at church,” Kevin DeBella. “It was nice to be able to get out on the lawn and see the love we feel for one another.”
The DeBellas said they are not afraid about contracting the coronavirus because they have been quarantined and are taking the necessary precautions outside of church, though they were not wearing masks at the outdoor service Sunday.
Both said they did not believe that the COVID-19 pandemic was as bad as it was being portrayed.
“It’s bad but it’s not as bad as we made it out to be,” Sandee DeBella said. “For us, the Lord numbers our days. I don’t want to go out of my way to distance myself from someone who may need a handshake or a hug or company.
“It’s either going to be my time or it’s not.”