The congregants lined up six feet apart on Palm Sunday, waiting to take Communion at the Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks. Ten people were allowed inside at a time, with someone spraying chairs with disinfectant after each use. By the end of the day, hundreds of people had cycled through.
Nearby, in the church parking lot, protesters lined up their cars and honked their horns, disturbed that the church would so brazenly flout stay-at-home orders from Ventura County and the state, put in place to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
It wasn’t a decision Pastor Rob McCoy took lightly. On Saturday night, he resigned from his post on the Thousand Oaks City Council, saying he planned to violate orders that deem churches nonessential.
“As an elected official I am in conflict and thus must tender my resignation from the council,” he wrote in a letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “I have no desire to put our community at risk and will not. … However this is portrayed, please know I am obligated to do this.”
McCoy could not immediately be reached for comment.
He wrote in his resignation that, although the church can seat 400 people, on Sunday he would cycle congregants through 10 at a time over a two-hour period after a morning livestreamed service, allowing them to take Communion in the afternoon.
Those who didn’t want to step inside the church could drive up behind the church and take Communion. Youth Director Elijah Swartz, 22, served plastic cups of wine and bread from a wooden plate attached to a long pole. After each visit, he cleaned the plate with a Clorox wipe. He wore a mask and plastic gloves.
“They were taking a lot of precautions to make sure everybody was safe,” said Robyn Freeman, 39, a Tustin resident who went to take Communion with her mother, who lives in Westlake Village. She said the criticism of the church was unnecessary, noting that there were signs inside advising congregants not to hug our touch.
She was grateful for the opportunity to pray.
“I just prayed for our world, just that this epidemic, this pandemic, would cease soon,” she said.
Noel Hazard, 63, showed up to express his displeasure with the event, which worried him because it was attended by members of his own community.
“They shop at the same stores we do, the same pharmacies, go to the same gas stations,” he said. “There is a risk.”
The church’s website said there would be arrows on the ground, six feet apart, outside the building and advised congregants to avoid physical greetings.
The website also advised those who were sick or high-risk to stay home, and asked congregants who had masks or gloves to wear them.
“Some people will disagree, and some people will be overjoyed,” the church wrote on its website of its decision.
Ventura County’s stay-at-home order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.
Thousand Oaks Police Chief James Fryhoff said officers would be on hand in an effort to ensure congregants were keeping their distance at the event.
“We’re seeking willful compliance,” Fryhoff said. “For us, the biggest concern is the number of people gathering in one place together.”
Thousand Oaks mayor Al Adam said McCoy, who has served on the council since 2015, was a “voice of strength and healing” after the city endured back-to-back tragedies: the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill and the Woolsey fire.
“He did the right thing in resigning, because he’s going ahead with the services at his church that are just incompatible with the county guidelines that we’re trying to maintain here in the city of Thousand Oaks,” Adam said in an interview. “I think he understands that, and that’s why he resigned.”
“He recognizes the fact that he has a calling here that is in conflict with his duties as a city council member, so to his credit he resigned,” Adam added. “I think it was the right thing to do.”
The city said McCoy’s seat would likely remain vacant until the November election.