More than a week after at least 51 members of Calvary Chapel of San Antonio in Texas got infected with COVID-19 since the congregation started meeting in person, the church’s pastor says he takes full responsibility.
“I accept full responsibility. I’m the leader of the church,” said Pastor Ron Arbaugh, according to News 4 San Antonio, while adding, “We kept all of the rules to the letter of the law.”
Late last month, at least 50 church members, including Pastor Arbaugh and his wife, Paula, tested positive for the novel coronavirus, leading to the church being immediately closed until July 12 and thoroughly cleaned.
“CCSA is suspending all other church activities through July 11,” the church says in its bulletin.
Arbaugh said if he could have done it all over again, “I would have said ‘no hugging.'”
“Immediately we shut down the church to get everyone through a quarantine period,” he said, adding that he and his wife had recovered and that the majority of those tested positive had reported mild symptoms.
Two days after members tested positive, the pastor wrote to the congregation, saying, “We will not have worship but I will be here teaching and look forward to joining with you online. There will be only a couple of us here in the building to ensure that everyone is safe.”
“Please be safe. Keep your focus on Jesus. Read your Bibles and try not being consumed by the news or by the strange times we are living in. We will be fine; God’s grace is more than sufficient. We will return together as a church body to focus on the marvelous mission God has blessed us with. Pray for others and know that they are praying for you. Nothing can stop the work our Jesus has for us!”
He also quoted Philippians 4:6-7, which reads: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
On Sunday, the pastor announced that when they reopen the church on July 12, everyone will be required to wear masks, in keeping with Gov. Greg Abbott's order issued Thursday. Arbaugh made it clear that the church has been complying with the governor's orders during the pandemic.
"We are going to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines," he said. "If you don’t like wearing a mask, then it’s just better to stay at home and watch online."
While Calvary Chapel typically holds three services on Sunday, Arbaugh noted that only the first service will be open to the public. That service will then be rebroadcast for the following two worship times.
Texas has been seeing "substantial increases in COVID-19 positive cases" and increased hospitalizations, according to Abbott. In response, the state is requiring the use of face coverings, which Abbott called "the least restrictive means," in order to avoid "more extreme measures."
Exceptions for the mask mandate include: children under 10 years of age, persons exercising outdoors, those dining, and those "actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship" though masks are strongly encouraged.