The pastor of a Worcester church will not be fined for a service held Wednesday evening because the congregation’s size did not violate a state ban on gatherings of 10 or more people during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
“There was no violations because there were less than ten people,” Kathleen Daly, a spokeswoman for Worcester police said.
Earlier, a city spokesman said Worcester could fine the Rev. Kris Casey $300, as Governor Charlie Baker’s order on public gatherings allows for a second offense, after Casey once again opened the doors of Adams Square Baptist Church . The first service was held Sunday.
Worcester on Wednesday reported 1,986 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and said the city has had an average of 65 new infections each day in April. City health officials also ordered a Walmart store to close Wednesday after 23 employees tested positive for the virus. The store will not be allowed to reopen until it is cleaned, sanitized, and reinspected, officials said.
The church service proceeded after Casey had been reminded by city officials of the need to follow the state’s social-distancing guidelines.
Casey began the 7 p.m. Wednesday service with a reading from the book of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths,” according to a livestream video of the service.
His sermon focused on surrendering to God’s will rather than trusting one’s own judgment. He appeared to reference the criticism he drew from public officials for holding the Sunday service.
Casey said that the last few days had been difficult for him, his family, and the church, and that they had received calls from people who said “nasty things.”
The congregation was not visible in the video, and it was unclear exactly how many people were in the church, but Casey spoke during his sermon of the “many people in here this evening” who were earnestly seeking God.
The livestreamed service ended shortly after 7:30 p.m. Casey did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week from the Globe.
City officials had already issued a warning to Casey after the pastor drew 56 people to his church on Sunday, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. If he continues to defy the order, city officials said they could issue another fine up to $500 or jail the pastor for further offenses.
“We have been following the governor’s guidance and doing everything we can to protect public health,” said Mike Vigneux, the city spokesman.
On Monday, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. wrote to Casey, telling the pastor he was endangering his congregants by holding in-person services.
In a letter to city officials and the governor that Casey posted on the church’s Facebook page, he wrote that he decided to hold the in-person services“ after much research, consultation, and prayer,” adding that the church would “also gather at the same location on Wednesday evenings for our midweek service.”
Casey wrote that his congregation would observe appropriate social-distancing guidelines.
Referencing the state’s order banning gatherings of more than 10, Casey added, “I notice that ‘liquor stores’ and ‘garden centers,’ for example, are designated under Exhibit A of the Order as COVID-19 Essential Services, but that religious services of 10 or more people are not. In fact, it would seem that religious services are the only essential function whose core activity — association for the purpose of worship — has been basically eliminated. Such a shut-down of religious services violates clear Constitutional rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments.”
Asked Tuesday about Casey’s decision to hold a Sunday service, Baker said extending the emergency order to houses of worship was a hard decision. “I’m also very sympathetic to the fact that lots of data from around the globe” where religious services continued unimpeded showed “the virus went all over the place,” Baker said.
During Wednesday’s daily briefing, Baker said Worcester officials had “appropriate concerns” about the church holding services and that the issue was “most appropriately dealt with at the local level.”
Globe correspondent Caroline Enos contributed to this story.
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