The socially un-distanced gathering was the latest in a series of church events that have recently been popping up on California's beaches in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom's coronavirus lockdown guidelines.
The sound of thousands of worshippers raising their hands and voices to the heavens drowned out the waves crashing on the shore of Cardiff State Beach Sunday evening. The socially un-distanced gathering was the latest in a series of church events that have recently been popping up on California's beaches in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom's coronavirus lockdown guidelines. While COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the state, barely a mask was in sight as worshippers stood shoulder to shoulder and sang and cheered in "Jesus' name."
"They miss their church families," Pastor Barry Sappington, who helped organize the gathering, told NBC 7. "They miss worshipping. Worship is a core part of a Christ follower’s life and as you can see people don’t want to go anywhere, they want to gather, they want to worship and this is a perfect venue for them to do so." One of those who spoke and sang at the "Let Us Worship" event was worship leader Sean Feucht—the founder of a grassroots worship organization—who baptized his son in the waters of Cardiff State Beach.
While Feucht said on social media that according to state officials, 5000 people were in attendance, reports suggest that a little over 1000 attended. "It's just the most raw, organic, gritty gospel," Feucht told Fox News. "It's been very eclectic, very diverse in terms of people praying and singing. People got healed, saved, and delivered." One of these people, Heather Molchanoff of El Cajon, said that she finds it frustrating to be barred from practicing her faith with friends and family. "It's such a double standard, right? You have protesters who can go out, do gatherings like this, and nothing is spoken about; if anything, it's praised," she said. "But then we’re not allowed to gather in church on Sunday."
An estimated 1,250 people flocked to Cardiff State Beach to protest the closure of their churches that was ordered in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.https://t.co/YIRtLMflp5 pic.twitter.com/sjlygIvZJ3— NBC 7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) July 27, 2020
Unlike most protesters, however, neither Molchanoff nor those around her thought to bring masks to the event. At one point during the two-hour event, worshippers were encouraged to reach out and touch one another, which Sappington said was unplanned. "But it happened, so we will believe that everybody is going to be fine," he said. "We’ll pray that they’ll be protected." Although he claimed that the group had a permit for the event, state lifeguards told News 8 that this wasn't the case.
San Diego County's public health officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, expressed concern over the lack of social distancing at the gathering, reports The Los Angeles Times. "In the photos that I saw, it really was a massive group of people gathering together without social distancing and without wearing facial coverings, so we will continue to address these egregious violations as we have others that have come to our attention," she said. Wooten, did not, however, elaborate on what actions the county might take against the organizers.
WATCH: Dr. Wilma Wooten calls the gathering of 1,000+ worshippers at Cardiff State Beach on Sunday -- with no masks or social distancing -- an "egregious violation" of the public health orders. https://t.co/5kXsUmO0og pic.twitter.com/hA8kYwtkNH— NBC 7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) July 27, 2020
Meanwhile, Sgt. Jake Pflepsen—a state park peace officer supervisor and lifeguard assigned to Cardiff—said Monday evening that no tickets have been issued so far. Deferring questions about the state’s citation policies to headquarters in Sacramento, he only said that state parks' main enforcement goal is "public safety." Meanwhile, Feucht and his organization, Hold the Line, are now headed to Portland. "Where the world has only seen destruction and violence, we want to change the narrative and show that the church is rising up to change the storyline in our cities," he said. "We're not just going to watch our cities be burned and pillaged. We're coming to bring hope and peace to the violence."