Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris has ordered a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, to close for two weeks after at least six people have died in connection with a COVID-19 outbreak linked to the church. In addition to those deaths, there have been 181 positive cases and 10 hospitalizations (including some people who were put on ventilators) connected to a convocation The United House of Prayer for All People (UHOP) held from Oct. 4 through Oct. 11.
“It’s hurtful, painful and on top of it, it’s embarrassing,” a church member who wished to remain anonymous told WCNC News. “It’s almost like a betrayal especially moving the fact that they moved forward with it given the fact that many people in the church disagreed.”
Another member who did not wish to give his name also said there were church members who disagreed with the October convocation taking place. “There were other outbreaks and there were a lot of deaths within the church already,” he said. “It’s sad, the fact that people already died and you’re going forward and just stepping over their bodies like their life didn’t matter.”
Mecklenburg County Gets UHOP’s Attention
An estimated 1,000 people from different states attended UHOP’s October convocation, which members say was the culmination of 12 weeks of events the church held at different locations along the east coast beginning in July. The church members who spoke to WCNC said that UHOP began to see COVID-19 outbreaks during that time period, but the church’s leadership continued with the convocations anyway.
A cluster of 19 COVID-19 cases has also broken out in Madison Saints Paradise South Senior Living, an assisted living facility in Charlotte that UHOP owns. According to WSOCTV, this cluster is connected to the October convocation outbreak, which has led to the largest COVID-19 outbreak the county has seen.
Mecklenburg County issued an abatement order on Oct. 24, right before UHOP was planning to hold a week-long revival. The order states that through November 5, all of the church’s locations within the county are prohibited from meeting in gatherings of more than 10 people. WCNC noted that the church has locations outside of Mecklenburg County, where the abatement order was issued, so it is possible that members are traveling to worship at those locations while the order is in place.
The county later amended the abatement order following cooperation from the church.
— Michael Stolp (@StolpWSOC9) October 30, 2020
According to the order, on Oct. 28 UHOP head bishop C.M. Bailey sent a memo to pastors and church members in the county “reiterating previous messages urging church members” to follow COVID-19 safety precautions. These include wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and staying home if they feel unwell. The order also says that since the abatement order was issued, the church has cooperated with Mecklenburg County and the public health department by reviewing and implementing safety precautions.
Under an agreement reached by County Manager Dena Diorio and the church’s legal counsel, UHOP will be allowed to open if the church follows the specific safety limits the county has outlined, such as posting signage, having staff monitor attendance limits, and putting up hand sanitizing stations. Public health staff will also visit the church to review how well UHOP is implementing those precautions.
Diorio said, “The church initially did not cooperate with county officials at the beginning of the outbreak. If church officials did communicate with the county, there would not have been an order issued. The lack of cooperation was what forced officials to take that step, and now the county has the church’s attention.”
An undated statement on the church’s homepage says, “Please observe social distancing, mask wearing, sanitizing and all other health and safety rules.” However, UHOP church members told WCNC that previously, church leaders have encouraged them to ignore state and county COVID-19 guidelines. In a June 9 letter that two church members sent to WCNC, Bailey said, “I am writing because I am concerned about whether or not those of you who can come to service are coming to service in the House of Prayer. I know there are restrictions Statewide and City wide that you must comply with; even though, I still expect you to come when you can.”