Pastor says parishioners were suspended from jobs without pay for going to church

'Church is as essential as Walmart, Target'

Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, talks to Dr. Phil about keeping his church open while taking precautions during the shelter-in-place quarantine.
Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, talks to Dr. Phil about keeping his church open while taking precautions during the shelter-in-place quarantine. | YouTube/Dr. Phil

A pastor in Louisiana, where public or private gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and 137 people have died due to the COVID-19 outbreak, says he still wants to continue to hold services with up to 1,000 people because the church is an essential part of the community he ministers to.

“We feel that we are as an essential part of our community as the retail stores,” pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, told Dr. Phil. “It is in persecution of the faith for us to be asked to close our doors whenever more people are being contacted in those Targets and Walmarts than are in my service.”

Dr. Phil responded by saying, “The fact of the matter is this is not a typical virus. This is much more infectious than influenza, much more deadly than influenza, particularly for those who are elderly with underlying respiratory disorders. … This can be very, very deadly. How do you feel about that?”

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Pastor Spell said, “We reach out, we minister to people, feed people. We are the last stable institution in this community today.”

He added it was a time of instability for the community he serves.

He said two teenage African American girls attempted to take their own lives this week because their parents lost their jobs, the schools are closed, and they don’t get their meals during the day.

“We are ministering to them; we are not part of the problem,” the pastor asserted.

He added that some of his parishioners were suspended from their jobs without pay for attending church. Their argument to their employer, he said, was that other employees were at the gym, shopping, and at other locations where they, too, were surrounded by people but they were not suspended for their actions. 

"That, my friend, is a persecution for the faith," Spell said.  

He further explained that many people who attend his church don't have internet access and aren't able to watch church services online. 

In Louisiana, there are about 3,315 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 137 have died.

In Cleburne County in Arkansas, Greers Ferry First Assembly is mourning their beloved long time greeter who died this week from the new coronavirus as the number of infected persons connected to the church rose to 37.

“We currently have 37 that have tested positive, with only a small handful that are still waiting on test results,” Pastor Mark Palenske said in a statement on Facebook Wednesday.

“Many of us are recovering from a long list of symptoms that seem to be common with this virus, and we certainly appreciate the hints of restored health that are headed our way. We are familiar with the expanding scope of the Covid-19 crisis and that daily individuals are being treated and advised accordingly. Our prayers are that God would strengthen them just as he did with us. Please continue to listen to the public directives that we are being guided with.”

In Illinois, several members of a Pentecostal church are either at the hospital or in-home quarantine after at least 43 congregants fell ill following a revival service about a fortnight ago, and at least 10 of them have tested positive.

In a Facebook post Wednesday night, Layna LoCascio, wife of pastor Anthony LoCascio who leads The Life Church of Glenview, said at least 43 of the approximately 80 people who attended a March 15 service at their church have fallen ill and everyone who has been tested for the new coronavirus has come back positive for the virus.

“We have 43 infected (at minimum) from our church or connected to our church from our last service on March 15th. They all haven’t tested but whoever gets a test done ends up being positive, and we all have the same symptoms. It’s just not easy. It’s especially not easy when you’re a leader and a pastor of a precious church and we all got infected together,” she wrote.

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