California Pastor Reprimanded for Conducting Church Service on Easter Sunday Despite Coronavirus Lockdown

A Californian pastor has been issued a misdemeanor for conducting a church service on Easter Sunday, violating the state's stay-at-home order.

Contra Costa Sheriff's Office released a statement on Facebook. According to the Sheriff's Office, Pastor Wyndford Williams of All Nations Church in Christ in Richmond is thought to be the first religious leader in the Bay Area to have defied health ordinances instated to reduce cases of COVID-19.

Law enforcement received a tip-off regarding "an unlawful assembly" at the Church at around 12:24 p.m. local time on Easter Sunday.

When the Deputy who responded to the call arrived at the location on 1225 York Street, North Richmond, they found a congregation of 40 or so churchgoers. None of the congregation were wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.

The service was found violate quarantine measures and the pastor was issued a misdemeanor. According to law enforcement, Pastor Williams was uncooperative and refused to speak to the Deputy.

"Our focus has been on education of the Health Officer Order and in the vast majority of cases we ask for voluntary compliance and that solves the problem," Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston said in the statement.

"This was different. The pastor refused to cooperate and put the lives of dozens of parishioners at risk," said West Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia.

Gioia added the order "applies equally to religious gatherings, funerals and political meetings. I want to applaud the faith community for abiding by the order and using alternative means of worship. Not having gatherings does not mean not worshipping."

The state of California has been in lockdown for almost a month. Governor Gavin Newsom issued a "safer-at-home order" on March 19, requiring the state's 40 million or so residents to self-isolate in their homes and closing all non-essential businesses. Anyone found to be in violation of the order could be subject to fines or even a prison sentence.

Church Pews within a Church, containing cushions, Hymn book and Bible
Stock image of a church. A Californian pastor has been apprehended for conducting a church service on Easter Sunday and violating the state’s stay-at-home order. DanHenson1/iStock

On Monday, Gov Newsom announced steps would be taken to begin the "incremental release of stay-at-home orders" but that the decision-making process would be guided by science and not political pressure.

The strict social distancing measures were introduced to limit the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, which has caused 890 deaths in the state of California as of April 15, 2020. According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been more than 26,100 cases of the disease confirmed as of Wednesday.

While Contra Costa Sheriff's Office says this is the first instance of a pastor defying the quarantine in the Bay Area, there have been similar incidents of religious leaders defying stay-at-home orders and health advice elsewhere in the country. Newsweek reported Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested in Tampa following a Sunday service that violated Florida's quarantine measures.

In Louisiana, a pastor reportedly ignored public health warnings and continued to hold church sermons of 1,000+ people. Meanwhile, in Lodi, California, a landlord changed the locks of a church to prevent the pastor defying Newsom's order.

In response to the news of the misdemeanor, Pastor Wyndford Williams sent Newsweek a statement, which said:

"Easter Sunday is one of the most important celebrations in the Christian faith. A small service was held with approximately forty people in attendance. Masks were worn. Hand sanitizer was provided. Families that live together, sat together. Otherwise, social distancing was observed."

The article has been updated to include a comment from Pastor Wyndford Williams.

The below infographic from Statista shows the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed worldwide.

statista global chart coronavirus
The number of COVID-19 cases across the globe. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

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  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
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  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
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Medical advice

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  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
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  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
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  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.