The pastor of Spring Hills Church in California, which has been warned and fined for holding indoor services, said they are trying to “meet people’s need for God.”
“We’re not trying to prove anything, just meet people’s need for God. If people are uncomfortable, don’t come,” Bret Avlakeotes, the founding senior pastor of the church in Fulton, Sonoma County, said, according to The Press Democrat.
“We’ve gotten the warnings, but it’s kind of like, do I listen to God and meet people’s spiritual needs as a pastor and church and listen to God and follow Scripture, assemble of our own free will? Or is the state God?” he asked.
Complaints against Spring Hills Church have been filed with the county permit department four times since March. Last Sunday, code enforcement staff visited the church to document its activities, and later imposed a fine of $100 as several hundred people were found attending weekend services.
“It was a large number of people, meeting indoors and without masks. It’s a pretty straightforward thing. Clearly in excess of the order,” Tennis Wick, director of the county’s permit department, was quoted as saying.
Lynda Hopkins, chair of the county's Board of Supervisors, cited Jesus as she called the church's actions "appalling."
“Jesus taught us to take care of the most vulnerable among us and this puts the most vulnerable residents in our community at risk," she told The Press Democrat. "The problem is recklessness and bad behavior is contagious. I don’t know why you would encourage people to take risks when you are a respected and trusted leader. It’s irresponsible.”
Pastor Avlakeotes noted during Sunday's worship service that the church had been meeting outdoors over the summer in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines. But once winter came, they decided to do a hybrid of indoor and outdoor services, thinking that their county would be out of the "purple" tier (the most restrictive) by then or that the Supreme Court would make a ruling that would "free up California regarding worship," the pastor said.
"We’re not looking for a fight," he told congregants. "If the county’s going to come, is going to fight us all away, then we’ll probably let them win this one and go outside and figure it out," Avlakeotes said.
According to The Press Democrat, the church announced on Sunday that it will move all services outdoors after being hit with additional fines.
As of early Sunday, COVID-19 had killed nearly 42,216 Californians and infected more than 3.2 million, according to the state’s tracking website.
Earlier this month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a San Diego area church’s request to overturn California’s COVID-19 restrictions on indoor worship gatherings while acknowledging that the congregation was suffering “irreparable harm” due to the temporary ban.
The court affirmed a federal judge’s denial of South Bay United Pentecostal Church’s request to block Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on in-person, indoor worship services as part of an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“Although South Bay has demonstrated irreparable harm, it has not demonstrated that the likelihood of success, the balance of equities, or the public interest weigh in its favor,” U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote in the court's opinion.
In November, a California judge ordered San Diego to reopen strip clubs while the county carried on with its restrictions on worship services and in-person learning at schools.
The state of California has faced numerous lawsuits stemming from the governor’s gathering restrictions as well as restrictions on other activities.