Marin Co. church holds large, indoor services despite COVID-19 restrictions

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- On the door of the San Anselmo Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church, a sign reads: "For your health and ours, enter with a mask." But it's a message that seemed to go unnoticed over the weekend, when the church held large, indoor services -- in direct violation of the county's stay at home order.

The livestream of Saturday night's service posted on the church's Facebook page, shows nearly 20 churchgoers singing together maskless and not socially distanced. The service also appeared to include a baptism. Another photo posted on Facebook shows roughly 40 more attendees. Most of them wore masks and sat apart, still, the state's current guidelines for COVID-19 say all religious services must be held outdoors.

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Town council member Ford Greene said the town was not aware of the church's services until ABC7 News reached out. The town will issue the church a compliance order. However, he explained when it comes to religious gatherings it's a delicate situation.

"We have to be respectful and defer to religious practice," Greene said, "But not to the extent that we cut off our nose to spite our face with respect to protecting our citizens."

He said this event has the potential to be a super-spreader.

The pastor of the church did not respond to questions from ABC7 News, but a spokesperson for the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists said in a statement that they require all their chapters to abide by COVID-19 restrictions. They said they have talked to the church and will now abide by the order.

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Asked why the church held the indoor services, the spokesperson said they believe church leaders may have been confused by the changing guidelines.

"The state order went into effect on Dec 8. Some Bay Area counties proactively implemented the order, some did not. If one does not keep up on the news or is not connected directly into the county, it can cause confusion," spokesperson Laurie Trujuillo said.

Max Korten, the coordinator of Marin County's Marin Recovers program, says the county has been doing outreach to several business sectors and to the Spanish speaking community, however, they understand the changing guidelines can be confusing.

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"It's true that it's especially hard to reach some of the smaller businesses in every sector, and so there's likely folks that have been missed," Korten said.

The county said this is the first report they've heard of a church violating COVID-19 guidelines.

The next service at the San Anselmo Spanish SDA Church was scheduled for Wenesday night, presumably now canceled.

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