A Pentecostal pastor in Maine is speaking out about a COVID-19 outbreak that health officials link to a gathering at his church. After conducting contact tracing, Maine authorities say 60 coronavirus cases are now associated with an early-October fellowship event held at Brooks Pentecostal Church (BPC), located in the small town of Brooks, Maine. They’ve connected cases from that event to cases that emerged in four local public schools as well as a long-term care facility.
In an October 20 Facebook post, Pastor Matthew Shaw expresses “sadness over the resulting sickness that has been spread by the virus,” adding that “the origin of the virus is unclear.” Five days later, in a Facebook video Shaw expresses “regret” and apologizes to the community—but then clarifies that the apology applies to supporters of the church, not to people who have an “agenda” against it.
What Happened in Brooks, Maine?
During the first weekend of October, BPC and its affiliated school, Lighthouse Christian Academy, held a fellowship gathering that drew between 100 and 150 attendees. Masks were available, but few people reportedly wore them, say investigators. Although some activities occurred outdoors, most were held indoors.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, says the COVID-19 outbreak traced to that event has affected individuals ranging in age from 2 to 80. As of October 22, three people had been hospitalized as a result; no deaths had been reported. Based on initial findings, Dr. Shah says cases associated with the outbreak will likely “increase significantly.”
BPC had been holding indoor worship services but has now moved online.
The Pastor’s Apology
Last week, Pastor Shaw urged anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms or feeling “as though they need to be tested” to seek medical care. He acknowledged the “fear and frustration” that some local residents were experiencing and promised that the church would be “addressing all recommendations and guidelines” from local health officials.
In Sunday’s video, the pastor goes further, saying, “We regret what has happened. We ask your forgiveness. We apologize that the sickness came to our church, and we apologize for the consequences that maybe the community is feeling.” He also expresses gratitude about reports that patients are recovering.
But then Shaw backtracks, saying his apology isn’t to all residents. “When I say ‘the community,’” he says, “I don’t refer to every person that has taken this opportunity to further your cause and your agenda, that you have used this opportunity just to voice your opposition against the church, but rather those of you for 25 years that we have stood with and stood by.”
The pastor mentions various ways BPC has served the area, such as after tragedies and disasters. Supportive neighbors, Shaw says, “are the ones…we want to make sure you know that we are sorry.” Other community members, however, “have told me we will never be forgiven for this.”
Comments on the church’s Facebook page are mixed, with some people expressing gratitude for the pastor’s words and others chastising him. Sentiments range from “You didn’t need to apologize” to “That wasn’t a real apology.”