Almost 3,000 people will attend a Sunday service at a Florida megachurch where the pastor, who was arrested for ignoring lockdown orders, said ‘we will not social distance, we will not wear masks.’
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, of Tampa, announced on Facebook Live Tuesday that The River at Tampa Bay Church will host an ‘open air mass healing and miracle crusade’ called ‘The Stand.’
The 58-year-old pastor revealed The Stand event will be the official reopening of The River Church.
‘People are flying in from everywhere. It’s going to be off the chain,’ said Howard-Browne.
So far, around 2,800 people have registered for the even online.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne (pictured) revealed during a Facebook Live broadcast that he will host a Sunday service called ‘The Stand’ this week
Howard-Browne admitted during the Facebook broadcast that he will not enforce public health rules put forward by the CDC and other health officials to curb the spread of coronavirus.
‘We’re not obviously doing social distancing, we’re not wearing masks or anything like that because we believe in the blood and the healing power of God,’ he said.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Howard-Browne has flouted Florida’s lockdown orders and held in-person services despite warnings from authorities.
In March, he mocked social distancing and said mass sermons would continue because his congregation are ‘revivalists, not pansies.’
Pictured: The River at Tampa Bay Church, where Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne held sermons in defiance of Florida’s lockdown orders
Pictured: The River at Tampa Bay Church’s invitation to The Stand event on Sunday that will have more than 2,800 attendees present
He was arrested later that month after hundreds of residents definitely attended a service at his megachurch. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Coronavirus cases in Florida have grown over the last two months, with more than 52,000 infections recorded and 2,200 deaths.
Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities on Monday afternoon and was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order
Howard-Browne added during his Facebook Live steam that although he would not adhere to public health guidelines, people will need to sign waivers to attend.
‘But people are going to sign a waiver to say they’re not going to hold the church responsible because you could have picked up something at the gas station or Walmart or whatever,’ he said.
Services are scheduled for Sunday at 9.30am and 5.30pm, then nightly congregations will be held at 5.30pm until June 7.
The Liberty Counsel, the conservative group that legal representation to Howard-Browne, said The Stand will take place in a parking lot covered with artificial turf that can hold up to 10,000 people.
Parishioners were told to bring umbrellas, hats and chairs.
Attached to The Stand invitation was a ‘manifesto’ that accuses governments and world agencies of discriminating against religious groups and churches.
The Stand will be held in parking lot that is covered in artificial turf and can hold up to 10,000 people
At the event, a manifesto said the congregation will ‘stand and lay hands on the sick and cast out demons’ and ‘we will stand and baptize converts and dedicate babies
Services are scheduled for Sunday at 9.30am and 5.30pm, then nightly congregations will be held at 5.30pm until June 7
‘The “antichrist” system, operating through the WHO, the UN, and governments worldwide, have mocked the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,’ it read.
‘They have done this by arbitrarily shutting down the Church, by not acknowledging or recognizing the Church as an essential service, by openly discriminating against, and even persecuting, the Church.
‘In their arrogance and godlessness, they have attempted to neutralize the Word and power of God and to mute the voice of the Church—the voice of Righteousness and Truth.’
The manifesto added that ‘We will stand and lay hands on the sick and cast out demons’ and ‘we will stand and baptize converts and dedicate babies.’
Howard-Browne revealed he has as much as 10 babies to dedicate durning The Stand on Sunday.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister will also be in attendance at the Sunday service.
Howard-Browne (pictured): ‘We’re not obviously doing social distancing, we’re not wearing masks or anything like that because we believe in the blood and the healing power of God’
In a manifesto, Howard-Browne accused the federal government of discriminating against religious institutions
Chronister previously worked with Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren to obtain a warrant for Howard-Browne.
In April, Chronister visited Howard-Browne and his wife, Adonica, at their home in Hernando County home.
He called the move proactive policing and was meant to work closely with community leaders as America reopens.
‘I met with Pastor Howard-Browne to discuss the future, not the past. We have committed to moving forward together,’ Chronister said at the time.
In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Chronister wrote: ‘The health emergency laws have evolved constantly during this unprecedented time, and we continue to make clear the Governor’s recommendations for social distancing, hand washing and wearing facial coverings.
‘During this COVID-19 situation, we must remember that which we are taught during worship – we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.’
Howard-Browne said on Thursday that church officials and authorities had a ‘great meeting this morning’ to review ‘traffic flow and people flow and security for The Stand.’
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister (right) met with Howard-Browne (left) in April after obtaining an arrest warrant
Howard-Browne (right) said he had ‘a great meeting’ with Tampa authorities about traffic and people control for Sunday
Such provisions will almost certainly be needed as Howard-Browne continued to boast about his high attendance levels.
During the Facebook Live, Howard-Browne showed footage of a ‘private volunteers’ meeting held after a church on Tuesday.
The group shows what appears to be hundreds of people standing next to each other under an outdoor tent. No one seems to wear a face mask, gloves or social distance.
Howard-Browne said that around 50 people attended the meeting, but then added that he ‘might have left off a zero.’
After Howard-Browne’s arrest in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered that religious services and churches by considered ‘essential activities.’
Several churches initially stayed closed and relied on streaming services online, but have gradually begun to reopen their doors as lockdown orders begin to lift.
Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis (pictured) made an executive order that churches were ‘essential’ after Howard-Browne was arrested in March
Pictured: Hundreds of worshippers attended the service at The River at Tampa Bay Church in March after its conservative evangelical pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne (center), vowed never to close
Churches adhering to CDC guidelines must prohibit handshakes and hugs, encourage face mask and sanitation, stop using prayer books and hymnals, and social distance.
The CDC suggests that religious services be held in large areas, outdoors or places with good ventilation.
Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, told The Times that these places may cause less risk infection.
She said air circulation dilutes the coronavirus, but doesn’t change recommendations to practice social distancing.
‘At the end of the day, we’re not out of the woods,’ said Levine.
‘Individuals are going to have to make choices based on not only their own risk but how much they’re willing to help or hinder the community’s efforts, so it’s important for everybody to plan accordingly.
‘I like to say denial is not a strategy.’