(RNS) — A Charlotte, North Carolina, church was declared an “imminent hazard” and ordered closed until Nov. 6 after an outbreak of COVID-19 led to more than 121 cases and at least three deaths. The closure took effect Saturday (Oct. 24).
The abatement order from the state’s health director, Gibbie Harris, was issued for the United House of Prayer for All People, which hosted more than 1,000 people at a weeklong event held Oct. 4 through Oct. 11. The event, described as a convocation, led to the largest community-based outbreak in Mecklenburg County, according to Harris.
Based in Charlotte, the Pentecostal church meets in several locations, but its leadership has refused to comply with recommendations for social distancing and wearing masks.
Harris said the church has also refused to provide information for contact tracing of those infected.
The closure was implemented in part because the church was planning a “Whirlwind Revival,” Oct. 26 to Oct. 31.
Calls to the church were not answered on Monday.
Nationwide, numerous churches have resisted state orders limiting the size of indoor gatherings and requiring social distancing guidelines. Some have sued, claiming that banning religious gatherings is a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clauses.
In Los Angeles, Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur defied California’s COVID-19 regulations by opening the doors of his church, allowing unmasked congregants to sing in close proximity to each other.
Last week, three confirmed COVID-19 cases had been tied to Grace Community.
On Sept. 10, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against Grace, prohibiting MacArthur from holding indoor worship services. MacArthur, however, has continued to hold in-person services, with congregants singing and sitting next to each other without masks.
The Charlotte United House of Prayer church is part of a network founded in the early 20th century by an immigrant from Cape Verde known as “Sweet Daddy Grace.” The churches are typically gothic monuments guarded by statues of lions on either side of the entryway. The Charlotte church has a central spire flanked by six smaller spiked spires. It has a seating capacity of 2,500 worshippers in its main sanctuary, a smaller chapel with a capacity of 700 and a parking lot with 600 spaces.
North Carolina has had more than 250,100 cases of COVID-19 and 4,100 deaths.
The state is under a Phase 3 reopening, which requires mass gathering limits to remain at 25 indoors and 50 outdoors. The mass gathering limit, however, does not apply to religious gatherings. But the state has issued recommendations for churches that call for social distancing, wearing a mask and limiting occupancy to 100 people per room or 30% of stated fire capacity, whichever is less.