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After repeatedly defying county health orders by holding indoor, unmasked services, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley is now facing an outbreak of the coronavirus.
An outbreak is defined as three or more cases of COVID-19 in one setting within 14 days. So far, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has confirmed three cases at the evangelical megachurch, though they did not specify whether it was staff or congregants that were infected. Services generally draw around 7,000 people, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The church has yet to comment on the outbreak but still lists three services for this Sunday on its events calendar.
Per county orders, places of worship may hold religious services outdoors with modifications to allow for social distancing and other infection control precautions. Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur did not want to abide by those protocols, and since July 26, has held indoor services during which worshippers have sat next to each other, many without wearing masks.
“We do not need the state’s permission to serve and worship our Lord as he has commanded,” church leaders wrote in a July 24 blog post.
The county sued to stop the church from holding indoor services and sought a restraining order that would halt them at least until a hearing on Sept. 4. That request was rejected, though the L.A. Times reports that L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff ultimately decided in September that the church must hold outdoor services only, with masks and face coverings. The church ignored that ruling and county attorneys have asked that they be held in contempt of court. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Nov. 13. Beckloff has stated the church and MacArthur could face fines of up to $3,000.
On Aug. 16, MacArthur appeared before his flock, who cheered uproariously (which spreads respiratory droplets further).
“We’re not meeting because we want to be rebellious, we’re meeting because our Lord has commanded us to come together and worship him,” he said to more applause.
After addressing the back-and-forth with the county, he told the crowd the “good news” was that they were gathered while not practicing social distancing or wearing masks. “And it’s also good news that you’re not outside because it’s very hot out there, so the Lord knew you needed to be inside and unmasked,” he added.
The Lord did not, apparently, protect them from COVID-19, though I am told he works in mysterious ways. A video of MacArthur’s sermon is available on the church’s Facebook page.