Virginia church denies 60-80 people attended Sunday services after police warning

State - Regional

CHESTERFIELD, Va (WRIC) — Mt. Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries denied a Chesterfield police estimate that 60 to 80 people were inside the church last Sunday.

A letter from Chesterfield Chief of Police Col. Jeffrey Katz sent to Bishop Daniel Roberston Jr. said a police report “outlines compelling evidence” the church violated Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.

“When this unprecedented stay-at-home situation started, we were under the impression that our paid staff and volunteers working in other non-sanctuary areas of the building did not count toward the 10-person gathering restriction,” a statement from a communications representative for Mt. Gilead said.

A police report attached to Katz’s letter to Robinson said an officer counted “approximately 33 vehicles in the parking lot.”

The police report indicates police responded to “investigate parishoners parking their cars out of sight of Mt. Gilead to avoid detection and bused to and from Mt. Gilead.”

After investigating parked vehicles and buses entering a nearby parking lot at the Diversity Training and Support Center, the police report says a sergeant “buzzed the administrator door at Mt. Gilead” where Executive Pastoral Assistant Terry Graves denied letting police in, noting “they were trying to limit physical contact.”

Police say they then provided Graves a copy of the governor’s executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.

After the church was warned on Sunday, the church’s written response says “we shifted immediately and reduced our team down to no more than 10 individuals at any one time in our 62,000-square-foot facility during our service times on Wednesdays and Sundays.”

Mt. Gilead indicated in-person public services have been suspended since March 22, and would be livestreamed online.

Throughout the video that was livestreamed during the 11:30 Sunday morning service on April 19, multiple people can be heard responding to the message of Bishop Robertson–one instance can be heard below.

“We practice social distancing and have other measures in place to keep those serving safe during our live-stream.”

Katz’s letter indicated charges were not presently being pursued against Mt. Gilead, but “further violations of this executive order will be enforced and I reserve the right to revisit the circumstances of April 19th should this activity persist.”

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