Maryland Pastor Resumes In-Person Services Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Says 'We're Going To Do It God's Way'

A Baltimore County pastor resumed in-person worship services amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, stating in a video he posted Thursday "we're going to do it God's way."

Stacey Shiflett, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland, posted a snippet of a sermon he preached Wednesday entitled "Religion without Restriction" to his Twitter account, after receiving a cease-and-desist order for holding in-person services.

"I'm telling you right now, with this cease-and-desist letter in my hand, the Bible says to the New Testament church...the closer we get to Jesus coming back, the more church we ought to be having – not less church. Now that is God's parameters. So I'm tearing up this cease-and-desist order right here and I'm telling you right now we are going to do it God's way," Shiflett said during the sermon as he held up what he indicated was the cease-and-desist letter for the congregants to see before tearing them up.

"We're going to do it God's way. God tells us how to worship him – nobody else gets to do that," the pastor said.

The sermon was recorded one week after Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order on May 13 allowing churches to operate at 50 percent capacity, a decision that was then nullified by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. the next day by an order that prohibited religious institutions from holding gatherings of more than 10 people.

In a statement posted to the church's website, Shiflett wrote that he re-opened his church after "compliance for two months" because they believe "that the church is essential – and to say otherwise is an offence [sic] to Almighty God and to every churchgoer in the state." The pastor stated that he did not re-open for "notoriety or publicity." The church website contains protocols for gatherings during the pandemic.

Shiflett also posted a tweet pointing out that some small businesses were allowed to reopen soon: "Baltimore County Executive just re-opened small businesses, and other establishments. But massage parlors, nail salons, tanning beds, tattoo shops and churches are to remain closed. God have mercy! #ChurchIsEssential"

Olszewski announced Thursday the state will allow retail stores, barber shops and hair salons to reopen Friday, May 22 with a maximum capacity of 10, including staff.

"With significant progress in expanding testing and PPE, I'm confident that Baltimore County is ready to take these next steps, and do so in a safe manner that protects the health of our residents. While these steps are important, we're not out of the woods yet, and I urge all residents to continue practicing social distancing to limit the spread of this virus," Olszewski said in the announcement.

The county executive also stated that religious gatherings of 10 or more people would continue to be prohibited, but religious institutions are welcome to hold "drive-through or drive-in services, as some have done."

A spokesperson from Baltimore County said in an email to Newsweek that "defiance of a Baltimore County cease-and-desist order can result in a fine up to $5,000 per violation."

"Religious facilities may currently choose to livestream or record services or ceremonies indoors with authorized persons. Facilities may also hold drive-through or drive-in services, where participants gather in their vehicles at or near the religious facility and participate in the service together remotely. Drive-through and drive in-services in accordance with prior guidance from the state of Maryland, may exceed 10 people," the spokesperson said.

Maryland has 43,531 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 2,045 deaths attributed to the virus, according to their state Department of Health coronavirus tracker. The state also has 1,374 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Baltimore County alone has 5,135 confirmed cases and reported 210 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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ANNAPOLIS, MD - APRIL 18: Protesters with the group Reopen Maryland rally near the State House to call on the state to lift the stay-at-home order and reopen the economy on April 18, 2020 in Annapolis, Maryland. Most protestors rallied from inside their cars as they caused gridlock in a traffic circle and a smaller group protested outside of their cars. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Drew Angerer/Getty
Maryland Pastor Resumes In-Person Services Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Says 'We're Going To Do It God's Way' | U.S.