Calif. pastor resigns from city council before hosting communion attended by hundreds

Pastor Rob McCoy (L) of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, California announces plans to host an in-person communion on April 4, 2020. | YouTube/Godspeak Calvary Chapel

A California pastor resigned from his position on city council one day before he tested statewide social distancing orders by holding an in-person communion at his church. 

The city of Thousand Oaks confirmed in a statement this week that Councilman Rob McCoy, who served on its city council since 2015, has resigned. McCoy is also the pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park.

The Thousand Oaks Acorn reports that McCoy officially resigned from his position on Saturday evening, hours before he held Palm Sunday communion with members to mark the beginning of Holy Week.

With bans on gatherings of 10 people or more in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the church abided by social distancing rules and only allowed 10 people at a time to enter the church building to receive communion. 

“Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday are critical,” McCoy said in a video announcement to his congregation. “[We are] paralyzed and considered non-essential though we would have liquor stores considered essential, cannabis distribution considered essential.”

“Across the country, abortions are considered essential,” he added. “Is the Church going to sit back and say, ‘Well, we will be relegated to non-essential,’ though we feed people and that is essential physical food?”

An online announcement informed congregants not to show up for the 11 a.m. service, which was online only. But after the service from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, church members were invited to partake in communion. 

“To not allow us to have communion is not proper,” McCoy said in the video. “To consider it non-essential is not acceptable.”

The church placed arrows on the ground to direct people to the communion and help them remain 6 feet apart. The church also advised people to refrain from physical greetings. 

Once inside the building, congregants were allowed to pick up the communion elements “for themselves” and take a seat in a chair in the sanctuary while maintaining proper social distance from others.

Loaves of bread were also available for people to take if they were in need or to hand out to those who might be in need. Bathrooms were closed and congregants were told to touch nothing other than the communion elements. 

The church also provided a way for people to drive behind the church to take communion. 

According to McCoy, the church followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He suggested that coming for communion would not be much different from people waiting in line at a grocery store or Costco. 

He vowed the church would not violate a “single CDC ordinance.” 

“Many in the nation would disagree with that and would find disagreement with us. But the truth of the matter is we have the Bill of Rights,” McCoy said. “The First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law restricting or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. This is critical to us.”

“We are essential,” he continued. “Essential for the simple fact that God called us to this. Now, we want to honor Caesar and render unto Caesar what is Cesar’s. We want to respect social distancing and want to respect everything that is expected of us. But we still want to have access to what is a sacrament in the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church as well.” 

McCoy explained why communion is considered a “sacrament.”

“A sacrament is a practice instituted by Christ Himself,” McCoy explained. “We found in Luke 22:19, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’”

The church urged all those who are considered high risk, sick or have been in contact with someone who is sick to stay at home 

According to the Los Angeles Times, hundreds of people cycled through the church for communion on Sunday, though only 10 people were allowed in the church at one time. 

After congregants left their chairs to exit the sanctuary, the chairs were sprayed with disinfectant. 

The communion drew protesters who lined up their cars and honked their horns in opposition to the church defying stay-at-home orders instituted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In California, there have been over 17,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 452 related deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. 

A copy of McCoy’s resignation letter to the Thousand Oaks City Council, which was obtained by the newspaper, explained that McCoy resigned because he was “in conflict.” 

“I have no desire to put our community at risk and will not,” McCoy was quoted as writing. “However this is portrayed, please know I am obligated to do this.”

Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff told the Los Angeles Times that officers were on hand for the event to ensure that congregants were keeping a safe distance from one another. He said that the biggest concern was ensuring that there wasn't a large number of people gathering at the church. 

Thousand Oaks Mayor Al Adam said in a statement commenting on McCoy’s resignation that McCoy was “a voice of strength and healing” as the city recovered from two tragedies — the Borderline massacre and the Woolsey Fire

“I appreciate his contributions and wish him and his family well,” Adam said. “While these circumstances are unfortunate, the remaining members of the Council and I are very much focused on moving forward.”  

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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