Some churches defy Anchorage’s COVID-19 order limiting large indoor gatherings

Anchorage Baptist Temple on Aug. 12, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

A handful of churches defied the city’s emergency order to limit gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19 last week. 

Anchorage Baptist Temple, one of Anchorage’s largest churches, held in-person services on Sunday. Anchorage’s Emergency Order 15 prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 15 people including for religious services. 

It’s unclear exactly how many people were in attendance, but a video of the service shows more than 15. Most appeared to be keeping 6 feet of social distancing. The church normally has a congregation of up to 2,000, according to media reports from recent years. 

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In his sermon on Sunday, Pastor Ron Hoffman addressed the issue in a video that was posted on Anchorage Baptist Temple’s Facebook page. 

“When our civil authority says something, we find ourselves in a quandary. But we must always obey God. We cannot stop sharing the gospel. We will not stop worshiping God. We will not stop being the church. We cannot stop, it won’t happen,” he said to loud applause. 

Hoffman explained that while congregants are normally called on to obey civil authority, they should not obey that authority when it conflicts with the teachings of god. 

And at least one member of the Anchorage Assembly, Jamie Allard, was also in attendance, according to a post on her official Facebook page. 

Post on Assemblywoman Jamie Allard’s Facebook page taken on Aug. 12, 2020.

Officials from the church did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Jack Frost, Chief of Code Enforcement for the muni, said that an officer with the department contacted ABT yesterday. While Frost did not participate in the meetings, he was told a code enforcement officer met with that high-level church officials in a telephone call. 

“They had a discussion on what the compliance measures were. And then he provided them the address of the link so and they said they were going to review the Emergency Order and proceed from there. So I’m not sure what that means,” he said. 

Frost says that his department generally responds to complaints from the public before contacting organizations or businesses that are not in compliance. He says that if there are more complaints, the muni would send a code enforcement officer to verify that the church is not in compliance. After that, they could potentially issue a stop-work order. 

A handful of other churches have indicated that they are not complying with the measure, though it’s unclear how many people have attended services. Art Mathias of Wellspring Ministries in Anchorage says that he thinks the scripture is clear, but did not provide any details about his service. 

“We have chosen to obey God’s laws and assemble on Sabbath as the Scriptures tell us to do,” he said in a prepared statement. 

King’s Chapel in Eagle River also posted videos on Facebook of its temple showing crowds exceeding what is allowed by the emergency order. 

Many churches, temples and the mosque in Anchorage say they are complying with the muni’s mandates that prohibit large indoor gatherings. In July, an outbreak was linked to a church in Anchorage. That was before the latest emergency order went into effect. 

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