Despite one pastor already being arrested in Florida and some cities threatening to permanently close down churches who offer services amid mandated lockdowns, a prominent pastor in Baltimore says he will continue to open his church’s doors to congregants to worship. The pastor’s vow to keep offering Sunday services comes even after police showed up to shut down the last one.
“The Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr. said he was delivering a sermon Sunday to 10 worshipers when four patrol cars containing ‘eight or nine officers’ pulled up in front of the Friendship Baptist Church and several tried to enter the building,” the Baltimore Sun reports. “Gwynn, the longtime senior pastor of the church on Loch Raven Boulevard, said security guards prevented the officers’ entry until he had finished his sermon.”
“You should have seen it, man, it looked like a police raid on a drug deal,” said Rev. Gwynn, 74, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Metropolitan Baltimore, which represents some 50 churches in the area.
According to a Baltimore Police Department incident report, Lt. Suzanne Fries ordered the officers to “shut down the gathering” but shortly after arriving, “the church service ended and the crowd dispersed.”
Gwynn maintains that he is following the federal and state guidelines by limiting his services to just 10 people and making sure they keep 6 feet apart. Despite the shutdown threat, Gwynn says he is going to continue to offer congregants a chance to worship at a first come, first serve basis, the Sun reports.
On Monday, Maryland’s governor issued a state-wide “stay-at-home” order effective that evening. “We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay at home. We are directing them to do so,” Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced during a press conference Monday. “No Maryland resident should be leaving their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason, such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking medical attention or for other necessary purposes.”
The report on Gwynn follows another incident involving a prominent pastor down in Florida who has continued to offer services, but reportedly without the restrictions on numbers and other social distancing measures. His popular church “even offered bus transportation for those services” and live-streamed the services, Fox 13 Tampa Bay reported.
“Pastor Howard-Browne, 58, was arrested in Hernando County and charged on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order,” The Daily Wire reported Monday. “Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a press conference that the church had access to technology that allowed them to broadcast their church services live to their church members. Chronister said that officers had talked to Howard-Browne twice on Friday and warned him that by holding in-person church services that he was creating a ‘dangerous environment.'”
Howard-Browne was released on bond about an hour after being booked.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the pastor here is hiding behind the First Amendment,” said State Attorney Andrew Warren at a press conference Monday. “One, it’s absolutely clear that emergency orders like this are constitutional and valid. Second of all, leaders from our faith-based community across this country have embraced the importance of social distancing.”
But critics say that authorities are taking things too far and squashing constitutional rights amid the crisis.