Last Sunday Pastor Alvin Gwynn Sr. of Friendship Baptist Church In Baltimore, Maryland, was holding an in-person church service when he was visited by the police who were seeking to gain entry into his Church building for supposedly violating coronavirus stay-home laws.
In an interview with WMAR, Pastor Gwynn describes what happened next:
We had approximately 8-9 police officers show in 5 patrol (cars) right in the middle of my sermon believe it or not. My security stopped the police officers at the door of the church and told them they could not come into the church,”
I said why are you here. He said did you read the Governors Order? I said I know the Governor’s order. It says ten people or less, I have ten people or less and I have ten people so tell me why are you here?”
Pastor Gwynn refused to let the police officers into the building, stating they look bewildered when he asked them what laws he broke. Gwynn said they gave him no answer, and that this prompted them to call their superior in.
“You should have seen it, man, it looked like a police raid on a drug deal,”
Once on the scene, Lt. Suzanne Fries ordered her officers to “shut down the gathering,” according to the incident report, after Gwynn “advised [officers] that he will not be cancelling any of his worship services in the future,”
Pastor Gwynn says he is undeterred by these unconstitutional actions, particularly because his service complied with the law by having fewer than 10 people, and again insisted that he did nothing wrong. He reaffirmed his commitment to hold services again this week and have easter services while continuing to follow the laws already in place.
In their policy guidelines which Maryland Governor Larry Hogan updated on Wednesday, services are still allowed to be had in-person, so long as the four guidelines are followed:
1. Limited to less than 10 people (including the pastor and any staff)
2. Have a distance of 6 feet between all congregants.
3. No congregants are to physically interact with each other, including passing the offering plate or handing out communion.
4. If a church is holding multiples services, there must be a four-hour gap between them and the sanctuary must be cleaned according to CDC disinfection guidelines.
Despite these gatherings NOT being in defiance of the law but rather fully in compliance, Governor Hogan still specifically singled out Gwynn on Facebook when he posted a Washington Post article decrying his behavior as an example of what not to do.
It’s almost enough to think that even if a Church takes all precautions and makes all necessary accommodations for safety and social distancing, no gathering will be viewed as acceptable or “essential” but rather will be viewed as dangerous and defiant from both secular governments and fellow Christians alike.
Update. We have an update to this story. Rev Gwynn chose to meet again this morning and even more police and firefighters showed up to surround the building. That story found here.