North County church plans to defy county health order

Coronavirus

CARLSBAD, Calif. — A North County church plans to defy a cease and desist order from the county about holding services indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, pleasing some worshipers but causing concern elsewhere in the community.

Awaken Church’s Carlsbad campus made the list of almost 20 establishments issued cease and desist orders after the new “purple tier” coronavirus restrictions went into effect last week. This came after photos on social media showed attendees not wearing masks or social distancing during services.

“It has been documented that indoor operations and no face coverings by attendees is occurring,” the order from Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten reads. “I appreciate the impact these restrictions have on your business. However, as the responsible party for your facility, it is your duty to ensure that the (orders) are complied with.”

But the lead pastor for Awaken, Jurgen Matthesius, says that its campuses have been open since August and that they have not been tied to any coronavirus cases, and some members say they consider indoor church services essential. Awaken also says it has invested in new technologies to help keep their facilities clean.

Matthesius, who has been vocal about social and political issues on social media in recent weeks, posted a video Tuesday saying the church was “not going to cease” and “not going to desist.”

Church leaders declined an interview with FOX 5 Tuesday but released a statement, saying in part: “In keeping with our first amendment right we will continue to minister to those who are most greatly impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns, namely those struggling with depression, anxiety, hopelessness suicidal thoughts and addiction.”

For North County neighbors, reaction to the news that the churches would remain open was mixed Tuesday.

“Since all this started I haven’t been in the church — any church,” said Elva Padron, a resident of San Marcos, where Awaken has another open campus. “I’m Catholic. I haven’t been in the church because I can pray anywhere. God is everywhere.” 

But Jonathan Bratt, another San Marcos resident, said he was more receptive to the church’s argument. “When you close people’s businesses or places of worship, I tend to have a problem with that,” he told FOX 5. “A lot of people are struggling right now and when you start closing them down, what are you going to do?”

If Awaken does not start taking the “purple tier” health measures laid out by the state, namely holding services outdoors, enforcing social distancing and making sure attendees wear face coverings, they could face a $1,000 fine for each violation.

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