Members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church gathered in Washington, D.C., to hold their first outdoor services in the nation’s capital since they successfully sued to do so.
Capitol Hill Baptist had filed a lawsuit against the District over COVID-19 shutdown restrictions that prevented them from holding outdoor worship services.
“We are so excited to be able to meet together in DC again! And we are thankful for the generosity of the National Park Service who is graciously accommodating us,” stated the church in an announcement.
“Even though our church is finally meeting again, you should feel free in your conscience not to join us if that seems to be the wisest course of action. The sermon audio will be posted on the website following the service as usual.”
The church gathered at Anacostia Park in Southeast D.C. on Sunday morning, with attendees wearing face masks and being socially distanced in keeping with public health recommendations.
Attendees were asked to bring their own Bibles and printed out bulletins.
“Thankful that the Capitol Hill Baptist Church was able to meet in the District again today,” said Pastor Mark Dever on Twitter, including a short video showing people gathering for the service.
The worship service in the park featured a sermon preached by Associate Pastor Bobby Jamieson focused on the nature of civil government.
"It is absolutely appropriate to take stock, to give thanks, to give honor to whom honor is due, to recognize the many blessings that our government continually secures and provides for us," preached Jamieson.
"The only conditions that justify disobedience to legitimate government authority, legitimate earthly authority are when they either command something God forbids or forbid something God commands."
Last month, the church filed a complaint against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District in federal court, accusing the local government of violating their religious freedom.
At issue was an executive order by Bowser from March that prohibited religious gatherings indoors or outdoors of over 100 people, which impacted the 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist.
“Meanwhile, Defendants have been discriminatory in their application of the ban on large scale gatherings. For example, on June 6, 2020, Mayor Bowser appeared personally at an outdoor gathering of tens of thousands of people at the corner of 16th and H Streets, NW and delivered a speech describing the large gathering as ‘wonderful to see,’” argued the complaint.
“And only three weeks ago, the Mayor coordinated with organizers of the Commitment March on Washington to ‘re-imagine’ the five-hour event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for several thousand people in attendance to hear an array of speakers.”
During the shutdown on large gatherings, Capitol Hill Baptist held worship in neighboring Virginia, which has more lenient restrictions on worship gatherings than D.C.
On Oct. 9, United States District Court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled in favor of the church, concluding that “the District has failed to offer evidence at this stage showing that it has a compelling interest in preventing the Church from meeting outdoors with appropriate precautions.”
“The Church has consistently represented that it will take appropriate precautions such as holding services outdoors, providing for social distancing, and requiring masks,” wrote McFadden.
“As explained, the District has not put forward sufficient evidence showing that prohibiting a gathering with these precautions is necessary to protect the public.”
Justin Sok, another pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist, said in a statement released before the Sunday service that he and the church “continue to appreciate our mayor and her dedicated efforts to protect the public health of our city while balancing the importance of various First Amendment rights.”
“With this ruling, our government is restoring equity by extending to religious gatherings the same protections that have been afforded other similar gatherings during this pandemic,” he stated.
“A church is not a building that can be opened or closed. A church is not an event to be watched. A church is a community that gathers regularly and we are thankful that such communities are once again being treated fairly by our government.”