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Church reopens for indoor services, defying public health order again

Posted at 5:26 PM, Aug 25, 2020

SAN DIEGO (KGTV)- As San Diego County awaits state guidance on how to move forward with reopening different sectors, a local church continues to defy public health orders by operating inside.

Under the current public health order, religious services may continue outside with social distancing in place.
Awaken Church was sent a cease and desist letter from the county’s public health officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, for operating inside in July.

A month later, the church is defying the health order again by resuming indoor operations on Sunday, August 23, the church’s 15th anniversary. Services and locations are posted on the church's website.

A video on the church’s website shows pastors Jurgen and Leanne Matthesius speaking about why they have decided to reopen. The two said it was time to reopen and that “fighting for our religious freedoms and pushing back against government overreach is not only worth the cost; it’s essential.”

In the video, the pastors say that the governor and county officials continue to keep churches under strict regulations, which prevents them from meeting the needs of their congregation.

“Sadly, we’ve had five people connected to our church that have lost their lives, not from the virus but because of the virus. This was due to many factors, including suicide, drug overdose, and severe neglect from a hospital who was primarily focused on their COVID patients,” said Leanna Matthesius in the video.

While county supervisor Nathan Fletcher acknowledged the importance of religious freedom and constitutional rights, he spoke of his frustrations with the church at a county COVID-19 press conference Monday.

“It is very frustrating to see an entity that has an avenue to gather that is allowable, that is acceptable, that is much safer, choose to openly defy that in order to expose the members of their congregation to a very dangerous situation,” said Fletcher. “Just gather outdoors, physically distance, and wear a face covering.”

Under the county’s public health order, houses of worship can continue to operate if “outdoor services and cultural ceremonial activities may be conducted provided all persons practice social distancing.”

A county spokesperson tells ABC 10News that the church isn’t facing additional action from the county as of right now.

ABC 10News reached out to Awaken Church for further comment but did not hear back.