Clergy con­cerned over out­door con­cert

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local News - By Peter Smith

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.”

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