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Pastor Who Said He Was a ‘No-Masker’ Now in ICU with COVID-19

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Paul Van Noy, an Idaho pastor who resisted a local face-mask mandate, has now spent more than two weeks in intensive care after contracting COVID-19. In an update posted yesterday to the website of Candlelight Christian Fellowship in Coeur d’Alene, Van Noy says he faces “quite a journey back” as he recovers.

The pastor says he expects to move soon to a regular hospital room before continuing his recuperation at home. “At present I feel OK,” he writes, “but still need quite a bit of oxygen support—especially if and when I try to get up out of the bed.” Van Noy’s wife, Brenda, and five church staff members also tested positive but have recovered.

On social media, Brenda Van Noy wrote that she was “praying for a miracle” because of the “COVID storm in Paul’s lungs.” She added, “I haven’t taken this COVID seriously enough.”

Last week, congregants held a prayer vigil outside the pastor’s hospital-room window. John Padula, another local pastor who attended, said of Paul Van Noy, “He loves God, and he loves people. He’s doing what God called him to do, and we just want to see him healed.” 

Pastor Van Noy Espoused Freedom, Not Masks

Despite passage of a local mask mandate this summer, Van Noy said he was “exercising his freedom” by not observing it. He told congregants he wasn’t suggesting they disobey laws, but said, “In this case, we can peacefully and biblically resist, without violation of the Godly standards we submit ourselves to.”

Although Van Noy never called COVID-19 a hoax, he questioned the accuracy of case reporting and the efficacy of masks. He said worshipers were welcome to wear masks but shouldn’t fear the “cause or effect” of the virus. “May we keep our heads at a time like this,” the pastor said. “And may we defend our freedoms lest they quickly disappear.”

In his September 17 update, Van Noy emphasizes that “only a fraction” of the world’s population has been affected by COVID-19 and that it’s time to “get back to church” because “the church is essential.”

‘Care about your flock,’ Urge Facebook Users

After news spread of Van Noy’s illness, people flooded the church’s Facebook page with comments. Some expressed prayers for healing, while others chastised the pastor for being reckless. “If you truly care about your flock, you will actually try to take care of them and have them wear a mask and social distance,” one person writes. “YOU might make it out of the ICU, but one of your parishioners might not.” Another writes, “It seems the Lord has given Paul over to the consequences of his foolish attitude and actions. Maybe this will humble him and lead him to repentance for his arrogance.”

On September 27, Candlelight is hosting Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, and Rob McCoy, a California pastor who was fined for violating temporary restrictions on indoor worship. “Charlie and Rob work to make sense of what the church’s proper role in America can and should be in the face of increasing opposition and cultural animosity,” says Candlelight’s Facebook events page. The in-person event will be held indoors. Idaho currently permits indoor gatherings of any size, as long as social distancing and sanitation practices are followed.

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.