Most decent-sized churches, fundified or not, have had the good sense to end in-person services as the coronavirus outbreak rages. Even without local or state stay-at-home orders, most church leaders know that the risk of spreading this virus makes in-person services reckless at this point.
For most of the spring, the poster children for the few churches that are obstinate enough to stay open have been Rodney Howard-Browne and Tony Spell. Well, add another to the list—Rich Vera, pastor and self-proclaimed “apostle” of The Center Arena in Orlando. Vera continued holding two services a day even when Orange County, home to Orlando, issued a stay-at-home order. Needless to say, he has taken an economy-size loophole Ron DeSantis carved out in Florida’s statewide stay-at-home order as carte blanche to continue flouting public health and every standard of decency that is known. In case you missed it, DeSantis’ order not only declares churches an “essential activity” with no limits on how many can attend, but bars local governments from taking any measure stricter than that order.
Vera held two services on Palm Sunday, during which he crassly told anyone concerned about him keeping the doors of his church open to “mind your own business.” No, Rich. It damn well is our business when you’re putting the friends and loved ones of your flock at risk for catching this disease.
On Vera’s Facebook page, he has sent the not so-subtle message that staying home is not an option if you’re under his “covering.” Take this post, for instance.
Notice how he says “I will see you there.” Translation: you’d better be there.
If possible, Vera ramped up his recklessness to another level during Holy Week. While writing about Vera at RDTDaily, I discovered that he is actively encouraging Orlando-area residents whose churches are shuttered to come to The Center Arena on Easter Sunday—where he is holding a full schedule of services.
And last night, he extended an invitation to Orlando-area Latinos as well.
Here is a pastor who KNOWS that many churches in his neck of the woods are staying closed despite DeSantis seemingly giving them the green light to reopen. Most of them know that even if it is now theoretically legal for them to have in-person services, it’s wrong and reckless. I suspect that the ones that might have been inclined to do so have been put on notice by their insurance companies that they’re on their own if they do so. That includes Howard-Browne, who moved Easter services at his Tampa megachurch online-only after his insurance company bailed on him in the wake of his arrest last week.
And the likelihood of an outbreak at The Center Arena may be bigger than even I thought. One of my longtime friends and readers pointed me to a story about an outbreak at a church in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, near Madisonville. That church brought in an evangelist from Texas to preach at revival services on the weekend of March 15-16—after sh*t officially got real with this outbreak in the wake of two NBA players and Tom Hanks testing positive, and after Governor Andy Beshear strongly urged churches to close down. In the days since, at least 30 people have been sickened whose cases can be traced to that revival, with cases cropping up as far as Clark County, near Lexington on the other side of the state. This church is not even a fraction of the size of The Center Arena.
Simply put, by opening the doors of his church, Vera is posing a clear and present danger to the public health not only of central Florida, but possibly of the entire I-4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa. If—God forbid—anyone gets sick or dies from coronavirus and it can be traced to The Center Arena, these posts, as well as his Palm Sunday sermon, ought to be top exhibits in any lawsuits or child custody hearings.
Let’s let Vera have it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, especially if you live along the I-4 corridor. He needs to be put on notice that we WILL hold him responsible if he causes an outbreak.