Southern Churches Draw Hundreds To Sunday Services Despite Coronavirus Restrictions

Mary Margaret Olohan 

Hundreds of church goers attended religious services in both Louisiana and Florida over the weekend, despite government coronavirus restrictions.

About 500 people attended a church service at Life Tabernacle church in Louisiana, just outside of Baton Rouge. The people gathered to worship after New Orleans police broke up a Saturday “funeral repast” attended by about 100 people, the Associated Press reports.

Pastor Tony Spell reportedly bused worshipers to Life Tabernacle from several different parishes, according to NOLA. Sunday’s service was the second service that Spell has held in defiance of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edward’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

“The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” Spell told NOLA. “We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

Edwards said Sunday that those who violate his order are  “grossly irresponsible” and “take the time and attention of first responders and make it much more likely that this disease will continue to spread,” the AP reports.

The Louisiana governor also emphasized again that the New Orleans city hospitals will likely run out of ventilators by April 4 and will also likely run out of beds by April 10.

Today, @LouisianaGov and I toured the medical surge buildout at the Convention Center. These 1,000 beds will free up ICU space at hospitals needed for the most critically ill, with additional capacity if needed. No walk-up admission—patients will arrive from hospitals.

— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) March 29, 2020

More than 3,500 Louisiana residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus, more than 150 have died, and over 1,300 of the coronavirus diagnoses as well as 73 of the deaths have been in New Orleans, the AP reports.

Worshipers also flocked to a Sunday religious service at the River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, a live stream of the service shows.

“In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty,” the church said in a statement. “We expect hospitals to have their doors open 24/7 to receive and treat patients. We expect our police and firefighters to be ready and available to rescue and to help and to keep the peace.”

“The Church is another one of those essential services,” the church added in the statement. “It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty.”

The River at Tampa Bay emphasized that the church is continuously cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and encouraged parishioners who are not feeling well to stay home and watch services online.

“We feel that it is very important, at this time, that we keep our doors open for anyone who needs prayer or ministry and to make ourselves available to minister hope and healing and comfort to them,” the church added. “We are the Body of Christ and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe God‘s Word to us, which says to trust Him and to not be fearful but to have faith in Him. We are praying—as are our fellow Christians around the world—and we know that God answers prayers.”

Neither Life Tabernacle nor the River at Tampa Bay Church responded to requests for comment.


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