Public health officials in Los Angeles have lifted all outbreak-related requirements and restrictions on Grace Community Church, which were put in place last month after three cases connected to the California church were confirmed.
“We are glad to announce that we received a notice from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health … saying that we have been cleared of COVID-19 outbreak,” the church says on its website.
L.A. County requires places of worship to report to the Public Health Department when there are at least three COVID-19 cases within a span of two weeks, after which the agency determines whether there is an outbreak.
“After a thorough investigation, Public Health officials have decided to rescind all outbreak-related requirements and restrictions on Grace Community Church,” the church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, said.
“Praise the Lord for His blessings and perfect provision. Thank you, Pastor John, for your example as you have walked this road,” a church member, Matt Mckinney, wrote on Grace Community’s Facebook page. “Your humble and unwavering strength, anchored in your trust of the Lord’s sovereignty to work this out to the counsel of His own will, for His own purposes and glory, are such an encouragement. Blessings my brother.”
Thousands of people have been attending the Sun Valley, California, church after it reopened in the summer despite restrictions on indoor worship services during the coronavirus pandemic. MacArthur and elders of the church said it was the church’s biblical duty to remain open and that they would not disobey "our Lord's clear commands.”
The church has also argued that in the many months it's been open, no one had been hospitalized with the disease.
In response to the three confirmed cases last month, Jenna Ellis, attorney for the church, said it was not an "outbreak," given the more than 7,000 people who attend.
"It has never been the church’s position that it is only safe to hold services if no one ever tests positive, or for example, if no one ever gets the flu during flu season. Our position has been that LA County shutting down churches indefinitely amid a virus with a 99.98% survival rate, especially when state-preferred businesses are open and protests are held without restriction, is unconstitutional and harmful to the free exercise of religion," she said.
Indoor worship services are currently banned in Los Angeles County, which has a Tier 1 status (when COVID-19 is "widespread"). Congregations are only allowed to meet outdoors with certain restrictions.
Grace Community Church and Pastor MacArthur have been in a legal battle with the county over the restrictions.
“They don’t want us to meet, that’s obvious,” MacArthur said after the county secured a stay of the trial court ruling in August that would have allowed the congregation to meet indoors with masks and social distancing.
“They’re not willing to work with us. They just want to shut us down. But we’re here to bring honor to the Lord."
MacArthur said he didn’t know “exactly what the city is trying to do with us and to us,” and clarified that the indoor service was not aimed at being “rebellious.” “We’re meeting because our Lord has commanded us to come together and worship Him.”
The church’s attorneys argued that the county’s demands to comply with COVID-19 restrictions were unreasonable. The church offered to have the congregation comply with mask-wearing and social distancing indoors until the matter could be fully heard.
At the start of the pandemic earlier this year, Grace Community Church initially moved to a livestream model and closed down in-person services. But within a few weeks, MacArthur said parishioners started showing up again. They decided to restart in-person worship services, with church leaders saying that the government did not have the authority to stop them from gathering.