About two weeks after California’s North Valley Baptist Church shot into the national spotlight over its refusal to follow local coronavirus guidelines, its lead pastor has changed his tune.
Faced with fines of more than $100,000 for defying Santa Clara’s public health order prohibiting indoor worship services, Pastor Jack Trieber has agreed to move his services to the parking lot of the Bay Area church. Parishioners remained in their cars during two Sunday services this week as Trieber preached from a podium draped in patriotic bunting.
Trieber said that, “after a great deal of prayer, fasting and counsel,” he felt compelled to stand aside and let God lead the battle to reopen churches.
“I have confidence that [city officials] are going to try their best … to help to get churches open at the right time,” Trieber said during his sermon. “Your job and my job is to keep letting God fight this battle.”
It was a significant about-turn from the pastor’s position mere weeks ago.
North Valley Baptist is an independent fundamental Baptist church with a 3,000-seat auditorium and an affiliated Bible college. After initially shutting its doors for the pandemic, North Valley Baptist resumed indoor services in late August. The church’s actions caught the attention of officials, who started imposing fines for each violation of the county health order. The church was reportedly fined $5,000 for each large service it held, in addition to other penalties.
Trieber, who has led the congregation since 1976, started posting videos online, insisting that the government had overstepped its bounds by restricting congregational singing and indoor worship. (Indoor choir rehearsals and performances have been linked to outbreaks of COVID-19 around the world.) He insisted that the death toll from the virus wasn’t that serious.
Trieber also said that the church had taken steps to protect public health, such as cutting down its indoor capacity and seating people in every other row.
“I beg you, look at the stats, look at the scientists … there’s not a pandemic here,” Trieber said in an Aug. 24 video. “Yes, let’s be safe, let’s be careful. But this area needs the church.”
Days later, Trieber told the congregation he didn’t care if he contracted COVID-19.
“If I get COVID, it is going to be a great funeral,” Trieber said, according to The Mercury News. “If I get it I really don’t care. … We’ve social-distanced to death.”
But the fines kept piling up. The church eventually accrued $112,750 in fines, The Mercury News reported Friday. Santa Clara County officials also announced that they were planning to file a temporary restraining order against the church, the paper reported.
“The reality that churches and other religious institutions across our county were successfully holding outdoor services, drive-in services, remote services — and have been — just completely undermines the notion that they needed to have an indoor gathering and create that huge risk of danger,” James Williams, a lawyer representing the county, told The Mercury News.
On Sunday, Trieber said during his morning sermon that he feared that pastors will be sent to jail for holding services in violation of public health orders. Still, he said he had made peace with the church’s change of plans.
He said he took inspiration from a Bible verse from the book of Exodus, taken from a chapter in which God saves the Israelites from the persecution of a pharaoh by making a path for them through the Red Sea.
“The Lord shall fight for you and ye shall hold your peace,” the pastor quoted from the Bible as the members of his congregation honked their cars.
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