Public and health officials have criticized James River Church, a multi-campus, 17,000-member megachurch in Missouri, for hosting massive Christmas-themed services last weekend.
According to The Christian Post, photos posted to social media show thousands of people, unmasked, sitting together without social distancing inside their Springfield location.
Jeanne Mann, a retired attorney and flight instructor tweeted a photo from the gathering.
“Missouri church service Saturday evening. One of six. With this much covidiocy in the country, we are proving ourselves to be the dumbest nation on earth,” she argued. “This is not a measure of faith. It’s a measure of arrogance.”
Missouri church service Saturday evening. One of six. With this much covidiocy in the country, we are proving ourselves to be the dumbest nation on earth. This is not a measure of faith. It’s a measure of arrogance. pic.twitter.com/FwaVnYEZIi— Jeanne Mann (@Jeanne_Mann) December 6, 2020
“I stg we're the dumbest country in world,” another user with photos tweeted. “I present to you James River church in Springfield Missouri this past weekend.”
I stg we're the dumbest country in world. I present to you James River church in Springfield Missouri this past weekend. pic.twitter.com/Wt6wZOdE9J— Littles (@Littles1126) December 8, 2020
While houses of worship in Missouri have no restrictions in terms of attendance, the state’s health department still required that social distancing be practiced.
Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard said he was “shocked” by the large gathering of people at the megachurch.
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to see photos from the James River event over the weekend. I can’t see those photos without also thinking of the images we’ve all seen of the impossible circumstances our hospitals are battling every day,” Goddard said in a series of tweets.
“Hosting a giant event without distancing or masking is irresponsible and insulting to the people on the front lines of this crisis, most especially the health care workers who are overwhelmed,” he continued.
Hosting a giant event without distancing or masking is irresponsible and insulting to the people on the front lines of this crisis, most especially the health care workers who are overwhelmed. 2/4— Director SGCHD (@directorSGCHD) December 7, 2020
“An event of this magnitude, indoors and in such close proximity, combined with case numbers where they are and our hospitals full, could be devastating,” he said. “By and large, our local churches have been great examples of staying emotionally connected while protecting one another in this pandemic—this example does not do those congregations justice.”
By and large, our local churches have been great examples of staying emotionally connected while protecting one another in this pandemic—this example does not do those congregations justice. 4/4— Director SGCHD (@directorSGCHD) December 7, 2020
According to the Christian County Health Department, they received multiple complaints from the community over the services.
“Christian County has unfortunately seen an overwhelming rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and a subsequent increase in the number of hospitalized residents. The lack of regard for the masking ordinance and therefore its fellow community members by this venue and its occupants is not condoned by the CCHD,” the agency said in a statement on Monday.
Out of an abundance of caution, the CCHD urged churchgoers attending the massive weekend gathering “to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14-days from the event date and seek medical attention if symptoms develop.”
In a statement issued to KYTV-KSPR, James River Church officials asserted that despite what the images show, “we take seriously the safety and health of those who attend our services.”
“We have strongly encouraged masking and social distancing each and every weekend during this challenging season. For the Christmas services, additional services were added to further provide for social distancing,” they explained. “Going forward, we are committed to doing a better job of encouraging and maintaining the procedures necessary to keep people safe and secure.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the church has taken multiple precautions to keep its members safe, including: taking temperatures at the door, fog-sanitizing their auditorium, sanitizing the children’s areas and common areas multiple times daily and providing masks to everyone who attends.
“Our heart at James River Church has always been to minister to people in our community. During this pandemic we have helped thousands of people with food, financial assistance, counsel, and spiritual encouragement. Most of all we want people to know that God loves and cares for them,” the church concluded.
As of the time of this writing, Missouri reported more than 328,000 cases of COVID-19 and 4,383 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Photo courtesy: Littles Twitter
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.