Christian musician Sean Feucht’s controversial “Let Us Worship” rallies concluded on New Year’s Eve with hundreds of people gathered at Higher Vision Church in Valencia as the Santa Clarita Valley continues its fight against a COVID-19 surge.
The open-air event started Thursday night, as attendees, some of whom were masked and socially distanced while others weren’t, sang, prayed, cheered and danced in crowds despite government restrictions on religious services that require physical distancing and masks to be worn at all times.
Many, if not most, of those who attended were residents from outside of the SCV, even California. Some Higher Vision Church members present declined to comment.
Among those in attendance was San Fernando Valley resident Ryan Donnelly, who attended with his wife and kids and stood separate from the crowd.
“I’m just excited to spend some time with people who love Jesus and pray and worship and celebrate with people that are like minded,” he said, “I definitely want to be cautious and careful, that’s why we’re distanced, but also I’m not as fearful of the virus. I’m trying to be careful.”
Kansas City resident Emily Stieve said she doesn’t agree with most comments Feucht makes but follows him because “I honor God by honoring Sean.”
“By coming here in support of him, not because I think Sean is perfect or I agree with Sean but because his presence is here,” she said. “Why would I let my own offense at politics get in the way of experiencing God in a greater measure?”
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station officials announced Wednesday they had been made aware of Thursday night’s event and deputies monitored the situation from a command post off site. Some sheriff’s patrol vehicles were seen on The Old Road outside the event, while private security guards were stationed inside the parking lot.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Public Health officials reported Thursday 290 new COVID-19 deaths, the highest day-one figure since the onset of the pandemic, partially due to holiday reporting delays.
“Tonight, and throughout the weekend, we need everyone to stay home and celebrate the advent of the new year with just your immediate household,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a Thursday statement. “All it takes is one slip to have one exposure and the coronavirus has found another host, another victim. And, our dangerous surge continues.”
Earlier on Thursday, Feucht and his supporters held an event at Echo Park Lake and another one was held on Skid Row Wednesday night, where protesters confronted them and criticized the event, saying that he has brought “super spreader” events to L.A. Other religious organizations, nonprofits and government officials, as well as state lawmakers, have issued statements that the maskless demonstrations place high-risk populations, including the homeless, in jeopardy.
Feucht is a volunteer worship leader at the Redding-based Bethel Church who has led a nationwide “Let Us Worship” tour throughout the pandemic. Bethel Church officials disassociated themselves from Feucht after he hosted an event where plans to require masks and social distancing practices were not implemented, according to a July news release.
“Doing the works of Jesus (heal the sick, feed the poor, cast our demons) is ALL we’re called to do!” Feucht, who has not responded to requests for comment from several news organizations, wrote on Twitter.
Though held at the Valencia-based place of worship, church officials said in a late Wednesday-night press release that Thursday’s “Let Us Worship” event is not an official function of Higher Vision Church.
“We are providing an outdoor venue conducive to a socially distanced worship experience and some volunteer support services,” read the statement, in part, adding that masks would be “freely available” and that those who felt ill should refrain from attending.
Officials from Higher Vision Church and other SCV-based places of worship have criticized state and L.A. County government regulations that forced a temporary end to indoor religious services in an effort to help prevent the spread of the virus, citing religious services to be among the most essential to communities.
Nearly two weeks ago, L.A. County Public Health reversed its ban on indoor services, following an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sided with a Pasadena church, which deemed the worship restrictions as “unconstitutional and discriminatory COVID-19 orders.” Some SCV places of worship defied the previous shutdown and have been offering indoor services with safety protocols such as requiring face masks and physical distancing, according to local pastors.
In its statement, Higher Vision Church labeled government restrictions inconsistent.
“Though, we also recognize — as do many millions of other Californians — an ongoing inconsistency in state policies that have allowed large protests or crowded stores for last-minute Christmas shopping but have denied healthy people the opportunity to practice their faith together,” read the statement.