Earlier today I wrote about Rob McCoy, a pastor in Thousand Oaks, California, who resigned his office on the city council after deciding to defy the Ventura County Public Health Officer’s order that his church was a “non-essential” business and should remain closed on Palm Sunday.
Godspeak Calvary Church, the church McCoy pastors, broadcast the weekly sermon at 11 a.m., as The Thousand Oaks Acorn reported:
During his Sunday sermon, which was live-streamed on YouTube (the sanctuary remained closed ahead of the planned 1 p.m. start of communion), McCoy said the church had taken all precautions to ensure the safety of people coming to take the sacrament, including putting up markers to enforce strict social distancing, limiting the number of chairs in the 400-seat church to 10 and cleaning the sanctuary. The communal elements (bread and grape juice) were to be set up on a table so visitors could take the items themselves without having to make physical contact with anyone, according to a message on the church website.
After publishing the initial story, I made the 20-minute drive to Godspeak Calvary Church. I stood in the parking lot observing both the parishioners and the locals. As promised, there were pieces of tape every six feet or so and the congregants were sure to obey social distancing guidelines.
I'm at Godspeak Calvary church and congregants are practicing social distancing as they wait to receive communion pic.twitter.com/l0g3QXfbMP
— Jennifer Van Laar (@jenvanlaar) April 5, 2020
As an evangelical, McCoy has been a controversial figure in the community; the Dos Vientos Ranch Homeowners Association (where the median home price is $752,000) filed a lawsuit opposing Godspeak Calvary Church’s purchase and renovation of the former YMCA facility they now meet in. No doubt a number of them were the people flooding the Ventura County COVID Compliance Hotline.
County’s COVID compliance hotline now specifically mentions Godspeak by name (volume on) pic.twitter.com/M1MdObaueT
— Kyle Jorrey (@KyleBJorrey) April 5, 2020
Locals in the parking lot were there voicing their opposition to the church’s decision to allow its members to receive communion in various ways. Some residents stood among themselves discussing their upset that the two Sheriffs Department deputies were sitting there, in their parked patrol SUV’s, “doing nothing.” One woman drove by in a black flat-painted Tesla, honking, the passengers hanging out the window waving cardboard signs with messages denigrating the Christian faith. (How’s that for tolerance and diversity?) This man stood about 20 feet from where parishioners exited the church, with a double-sided sign.
I saw a friend with her two daughters (infant and toddler) in line and waved hello. She walked past me on her way back to her car and we said hello at a safe social distance. As we were talking one of the residents couldn’t help herself; she had to express her opinion on my friend’s mothering skills, telling my friend that she was bringing her children to an illegal gathering, that it was going to get people killed, that she was putting her children in danger, and, “Shame on you.” My friend replied that they had complied with all CDC guidelines, they were exercising their right to practice their religion, and that she had cleared the outing with her pediatrician. She urged the woman to read the Constitution. The woman’s only reply was, “Well, tell me who that pediatrician is so I never go to them!”
After hearing enough handwringing to last a lifetime, I went through the line to receive communion (and to observe for myself what was going on inside). There were only 10 chairs in the sanctuary. When I was there, about half of them were filled. I was struck by the solemn mood and the ability of the parishioners to meditate despite the chaos outside and a steady stream of people walking by. A band was playing, and though I didn’t know anyone in the church and am not a member they welcomed me and were gracious and kind.
I didn’t take any pictures out of respect for the people worshiping, but this video from a local radio reporter shows the scene and shows that instead of a traditional communion service, this was distribution of bread and grape juice to be consumed off-site. (Perhaps they were allowed to be consumed in the sanctuary; not being familiar with the process I didn’t consume mine there and didn’t see anyone else do so.)
Thousand Oaks Cchurch Godspeak violates state and county stay-at-home orders, offering public communion on Palm Sunday. Ventura County Sheriffs letting it happen. Residents outside outraged, protesting. @KNX1070 #Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/3zpVnbmabq
— Emily Valdez (@EmilyValdezKNX) April 5, 2020
For reference, here is what the local Costco looked like a few weeks ago, before social distancing was ordered by the Ventura County Public Health Department.
Westlake Village Costco at 10 AM pic.twitter.com/aNUaZQ4TDb
— AlternativeFacts (@rsammysams) March 12, 2020
And on March 24:
As I left, the woman who had spoken to my friend had reappeared with a “Thank you for resigning, Rob McCoy” sign and was jockeying to get in the line of sight of news cameras that were stationed in front of the church to tape interviews with Pastor McCoy.