James River Church Responds to Criticism of Christmas Service’s Lack of COVID-19 Precautions

James River Church, one of the leading churches in the nation, has committed to “doing a better job” related to COVID-19 precautions after photos of their Christmas services caused controversy online.

The church held several services during the weekend of December 5th and 6th for their annual Christmas celebrations. The services are usually some of their most attended services of the year, and the church adds additional services to accommodate the crowds.

Photographs of the services and screen captures from the livestream of the services began to spread online showing a sanctuary full of people who were not seated in a socially distanced manner, many of whom were not wearing masks, in violation of the ordinance put in place by the city of Ozark.

The spread of the video was sparked by social media sites like Reddit and Facebook, where the church drew significant condemnation from community residents. The negative responses ran from simple statements that they felt the church was not acting in a Christ-like manner in allowing people to be in a situation with an increased likelihood of spreading COVID-19, to crude statements mocking the church, its members, and Christianity.

The photos also lead to complaints being filed with the city of Ozark. Assistant City Administrator Samantha Payne sent the following statement to KWTO:

The City of Ozark has received calls into our COVID hotline with concerns regarding the lack of masks at a local church service.  Each call received on the hotline number is handled in the same manner, we reach out to the business/organization and begin with educating them on the mayoral order.  We have followed our procedure on this instance.

Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard was critical of the church.

“I was shocked and deeply saddened to see photos from the James River event over the weekend,” Goddard posted on Twitter. “I can’t see those photos without also thinking of the images we’ve all seen of the impossible circumstances our hospitals are battling every day. Hosting a giant event without distancing or masking is irresponsible and insulting to the people on the front lines of this crisis, most especially the health care workers who are overwhelmed.”

KWTO reached out to James River Church on Monday, asking them the following:

Could you please explain why you did not require people to wear the masks while seated when they were not six feet apart per Ozark’s ordinance?  Also, why did you not take steps to seat people in every other row or in some other way provide physical barricades to require attendees to be socially distanced? 

The church leadership of James River Church sent the following response to KWTO Monday afternoon:

We take seriously the safety and health of those who attend our services. We have strongly encouraged masking and social distancing each and every weekend during this challenging season. For the Christmas services, additional services were added to further provide for social distancing. Going forward, we are committed to doing a better job of encouraging and maintaining the procedures necessary to keep people safe and secure. Throughout the pandemic, in addition to encouraging masking and social distancing, we have done the following at each service to keep people safe:

  1. Take temperatures at the door
  2. Fog-sanitize our auditoriums
  3. Multiple times per day sanitize the children’s areas and the common areas
  4. Provide masks to everyone who attends

Our heart at James River Church has always been to minister to people in our community. During this pandemic we have helped thousands of people with food, financial assistance, counsel, and spiritual encouragement. Most of all we want people to know that God loves and cares for them.

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