Clergy concerned over outdoor concert
A California- based Christian musician and COVID- 19 skeptic who has been holding outdoor worship concerts around the country, attended by large crowds with many standing close together and without masks, now plans one for Schenley Park on Sunday.
That’s raising concerns among local religious leaders, who are urging against unsafe gatherings. But there is no indication of public officials taking steps to restrict the event. Such a gathering would be legal under Pennsylvania public- health guidelines that exempt religious gatherings from limits to crowd sizes.
Recent concerts and events led by Sean Feucht, under such taglines as “Hold the Line” and “Let Us Worship,” have raised the consternation of public- health officials around the country.
No one had applied for a permit for a public concert as of Friday, according to Timothy McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto. “Typically, permits are required for events on city property and rights of way, with exceptions for First Amendment activities,” he said.
The University of Pittsburgh Association of
Chaplains has issued a statement saying it does not condone or encourage the event out of concern it would potentially spread COVID- 19, frustrating efforts to contain it by the university and surrounding Oakland neighborhood.
“No matter your religious or political views, for health and safety reasons we do not support the patterns we have observed with ‘ Hold the Line’ gatherings in other cities, as they have displayed large numbers of people with no masks or social distancing,” the chaplains’ statement said.
“This group … does not seem to take coronavirus seriously,” added Erin Angeli, vice president of the association, which includes chaplains of various faiths. “We think there has to be a line being drawn when your personal beliefs put the community in danger.”
The Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive minister of the ecumenical group Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, also urged safe behavior by participants.
“This event is called Let Us Worship, but no one is stopping Christians from worshiping,” she said in a statement. “Worship continues here in Southwest Pennsylvania in a variety of safe and creative ways: on lawns and in parking lots, online, or inside with masks and distancing.
“We are all eager to return to worship as we knew it before COVID, but our faith teaches that patience is a virtue. Christians are commanded to care for the most vulnerable: that means taking reasonable precautions to prevent passing this deadly or life- altering virus on to others. I hope that if this event proceeds, it does so with appropriate attention to masks, social distancing, and other commonsense public health practices.”
A reporter’s query sent to Mr. Feucht’s website had not received a reply by late Friday afternoon.
Mr. Feucht’s concerts feature hard- driving, rock- style worship music and attract a mostly younger crowd. His social media feeds include posts downplaying the seriousness of the COVID- 19 pandemic and complaining of public health restrictions on crowd sizes, which vary by state and locality.
He ran and lost in a Republican primary for Congress in California earlier this year and is among a group of conservative Christian leaders who gathered in the White House to pray for President Donald Trump late last year amid the impeachment controversy.
A religious gathering would be exempt from Pennsylvania’s limits on crowd gatherings — even the less restrictive capacity limits for outdoor gatherings announced earlier this month by Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine. Currently, an outdoor event with up to 2,000 attendees would be limited to 25% capacity for the venue.
“In order to protect the safety and well- being of our fellow Pennsylvanians, we hope with any gathering all individuals will wear a mask, wash their hands frequently, practice social distancing and respect the gathering limitations — just as shared in our ongoing universal masking order and gathering limitations,” said Nate Wardle, press secretary for the state Department of Health, via email.
“With that being said, religious gatherings are not affected by the gathering limitations order and have not previously been restricted throughout the state’s COVID- 19 response,” he said. “The Department of Health continues to encourage places of worship to find alternative ways to hold services, including virtual and outdoors, and to employ social distancing and mask wearing during services.”