Tampa Megachurch Draws Hundreds Despite Social Distancing Order, Pastor Defends Holding Service

Faith groups across the country have canceled services or switched to online-based services, including the 34th Street Church of God in Tampa, whose Bishop Thomas Scott was present in support of the sheriff's actions on Monday.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has obtained an arrest warrant for the pastor of a Tampa megachurch who held two services on Sunday for scores of worshippers, violating a county order for residents to stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The River at Tampa Bay Church defended their decision to hold services Sunday for hundreds of worshipers who did not keep at least six feet apart, WTVT-TV a local Fox affiliate reported Monday.

Pastor Browne bragged during the service that River Church would remain open for the duration. but TMZ has learned the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Dept. now has a warrant for the Pastor's arrest. On Monday, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis announced he would sign statewide "safer-at-home" restrictions which were already in place in Hillsborough County when The River Church held Sunday services.

The pastor of a Tampa, Florida church is now facing charges after refusing to shut down despite an order in Hillsborough County for people to stay at home, meant to stop the spread of the CCP virus. 30 years ago we came from South Africa to America as missionaries.... "But practicing those beliefs has to be done safely", added Chronister. "If you can not be saved in church, you in serious trouble".

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"I know that they're trying to beat me up, you know, having the church operational, but we are not a non-essential service", Howard-Browne said at the start of the Sunday morning sermon. "If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 miles per hour. It'll neutralize it in a split second". They also compared their services to that of essential businesses like hospitals and police stations. Still, a lot of cars filled the church parking lot Sunday evening.

Howard-Browne has always been a conspiracy theorist who also believes he can cure diseases. On Feb. 26, the pastor said he could, "cure coronavirus like he did with Zika".

Chronister said the sheriff's office had been in contact with leaders at the church since Friday after getting an anonymous tip that the pastor, Dr. Howard-Browne refused requests to temporarily stop the large services. "And the very thought that if people come to church, you're going to kill them, that's garbage".

"They have access to technology allowing them to livestream their services over the internet and broadcast to their 400 members from the safety of their own homes, but instead they chose to gather at church", Chronister explained.

"I immediately tried to contact Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and he immediately got back to me and just said, "We're on it", said Kemp.

  • Delia Davidson