Multi-campus North Carolina church reopens after coronavirus outbreak

United House of Prayer For All People
The United House of Prayer For All People in Charlotte, North Carolina. |

A multi-campus evangelical Christian church has reopened its doors after coming to an agreement with local officials in North Carolina, who had previously ordered it to close its buildings in Mecklenburg County following a coronavirus outbreak involving nearly 200 people.

Mecklenburg County had earlier issued an Abatement of Imminent Hazard Order for United House of Prayer for All People Church that went into effect Oct. 24. The order prohibited all in-person gatherings at the church’s Mecklenburg County locations until at least Nov. 5.

The order came after nearly 200 people who attended a week-long convocation at the church’s Charlotte location earlier last month tested positive for coronavirus. The convocation was also linked to six deaths and at least 10 hospitalizations.

However, less than a week after the order went into effect, the United House of Prayer announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement with Mecklenburg County to reopen all 11 of its locations. Under the agreement, the United House of Prayer implemented measures including the “required wearing of masks, availability of hand sanitizer throughout the Church’s buildings, social distancing, and the regular cleaning and sanitizing of Church facilities.”

“This is a great result for the United House of Prayer and for religious freedom and expression throughout Mecklenburg County," said Apostle Ronnie White, pastor at the United House of Prayer’s Church location where the convocation was held. "Our congregants and members are looking forward to participating in daily services starting today and we and our leader, Bishop C.M. Bailey, are thrilled to welcome them back into God’s House.”

According to an e-mail from Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio, obtained by WSOC9’s Joe Bruno, the church also agreed to allow “site visits at each location by Public Health staff to review prevention/safety measures and establish capacity guidance based on location.” While the United House of Prayer can reopen 10 of its 11 churches in the county, it agreed to keep the location where the coronavirus outbreak took place closed until Nov. 5. 

As Diorio noted, “UHOP holds services seven days per week and they believe that the order is an Overreach.”

Joshua D. Davey, who worked as legal counsel on behalf of the United House of Prayer, took the position that “the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Article 1, section 13 of the North Carolina Constitution, guarantee the right to free exercise of religion to all. The County can take measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, but those actions cannot be overbroad, and the County cannot substantially shut down an entire religious denomination, as the Abatement Order did here.”

Thanking local health officials for their advice and cooperation, Pastor White noted that members of the church are “just excited and thankful to be able to worship the Lord and do so together as a community.”

“All that the United House of Prayer ever asked is to be able to exercise those rights and serve the surrounding community according to the will of the Lord.”

During a Friday afternoon news conference, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said that “the pastors and the staff at all of those sites have been very responsive and engaged and have been willing to work with us on this guidance.”

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