Bethel Church has distanced itself from Sean Feucht’s July 22 outdoor worship gathering held at the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. The event has drawn criticism from Shasta County Public Health officials, as well as from the City of Redding, even though Feucht claims city leaders gave their approval ahead of time.
“I want to clarify that I shared our plans with city council (something we have never done before),” said Feucht on Facebook. “They asked me to reach out to the local health department. We did that and we never received a response. I assumed that was sufficient and that we had the green light.”
Worship at the Sundial Bridge
Wednesday’s event was part of a series of worship events Sean Feucht has been conducting throughout the country as part of his Hold the Line initiative. According to KRCR News, hundreds of people attended the gathering at the Sundial Bridge, but few were wearing masks or social distancing.
In an Instagram post before the event, Feucht said, “I have been in talks with our mayor, city council & spiritual fathers of the city. We have many local pastors and ministries joining in! We want to honor them and keep our Covid count low by spreading out (there’s lots of room) and wearing masks if you are able. We will bring extras if you don’t have one!”
On Facebook after the event, Feucht said, “I want to thank our city leaders for honoring our rights to worship outdoors freely (according to state and CDC regulations). I want to reiterate we encouraged social distancing & told people to wear masks (we even brought extras if people needed them). We cannot force this on people.”
Shasta County Public Health officials and city council member Julie Winter dispute Feucht’s claim that he reached out to them and got approval to hold an outdoor worship service.
“An outdoor worship event was held at the Sundial Bridge last night and the organizer publicly stated that I gave the green light for the event,” said Winter (who is a member of Bethel Church) in a Facebook post. “I want to clearly state that is untrue. I did not greenlight the event, nor do I (or anyone on the council) have the authority to do so.”
Winter said she found out about the gathering the day before it took place and that she was the one who reached out to Feucht’s team. The council member was concerned that worshipers would not be willing to socially distance or wear masks, given how hot it was. Winter then recommended contacting County Public Health “to get approval or consider rescheduling the event.”
In a press release issued Thursday, Shasta County Health and Human Services said that the organizers never reached out to them. Instead, public health officials said they heard about the upcoming gathering at the Sundial Bridge and reached out to Feucht’s team, sending them the guidance pertaining to outdoor worship services. According to the press release, “Turtle Bay and the City of Redding reached out to the organizers also and were assured that the event would involve social distancing and a ‘small battery powered amplification for acoustic guitar and mic.’”
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The church gathered to worship under a bridge last night. People were saved, healed, freed and there was SO. MUCH. HOPE. RELEASED. Thank you to the many pastors across Redding for showing up. Thank you to the city leaders for honoring our rights to gather and worship outdoors. Thank you Jesus for showing up and moving in our city. 😭 [🎬= @elemenopeeproductions crushed this vid!]
The statement went on to explain how participants failed to follow the guidance. The reasons why include that worshipers did not practice social distancing (and in fact could not because of the size of the venue), and they did not wear masks.
“We truly empathize with all who have had to change the way they worship in the past few months,” said the statement. “Very sadly, some of our local cases of COVID-19, including hospitalizations, have resulted from faith gatherings, and it’s critical that our faith community leaders continue to offer safe services that follow the state guidelines.”
Even though Feucht is a volunteer worship leader with Bethel Church and there were church members present at the event, Bethel was not involved in any official capacity, which is something that both the church and Feucht emphasized after the event. Church communications director Aaron Tesauro said, “We value people’s freedom to express themselves, but we also really value the safety of our region and that’s why we’ve limited activities at church, social distancing, not having services and that’s what we’ve been doing as a church at this time.”
Feucht maintains he did everything in his power to be above board in planning the event. He said, “We tried our best to honor the city and navigate the proper channels. We spent more time doing this in Redding than any other city thus far. We love Redding and we love the church in our city deeply.”