Updated: December 14, 2020 10:15 PM
Created: December 14, 2020 09:31 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two former members of Calvary Church have started a petition after they say church leaders have been guilting people into attending services in person.
The creation of the petition was prompted by comments the head pastor made during his latest sermon series.
“This is a message I'm calling today the essential church,” said Calvary Church head pastor Skip Heitzig. “He didn't say I'm going to build by club or my base of followers or I'm going to build my online community or YouTube channel—he said I'm going to build my church."
Heitzig said he’s glad there’s technology available to stream services, but also said assembly under God is important and benefits society.
“All of that is great yet the New Testament calls us to gather together,” Heitzig said. “I know that this is very, very, very controversial. If you don't think it is, just look at my social media comments. 'You're killing people.' No, we're actually meeting according to state regulations, but the idea that the church would even gather together during this season. First of all, I want to say we care about your physical health. We will take every precaution, like distancing and wash their hands. At the same time, we think you are adults and can make your own choices about your life and your health."
The former church members, two women, said the church is encouraging people to not follow the state's rules.
“Their tag line was ‘You can't serve from your sofa’ and it really struck a chord with us because it was as if Calvary was using their platform to kind of scare people in going against the public health order and support their opposition of it,” said Rachel, a former church member.
The two women tried to reach out to the church, but the church blocked, deleted and disabled their comments on social media. Rachel said she hopes the petition catches the attention of state leaders.
“It’s our hope to get this directed at someone higher up with more legislative pull," she said.
On Sunday, Pastor Heitzig spokes about who the church doesn’t belong to.
“It doesn't belong to the government either. It doesn't,” he said. “Can I be a Christian and not go to church? Technically, yes. You're not saved by going to church. You're saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. But you ask that question, 'Can I be a Christian and not go to church?' It's like being a football player without a team."
Rachel said the pastor’s comments are not only spreading fear and distrust, but COVID, too.
The women said they don’t believe the church is following COVID safe practices, however, Calvary disagrees. Officials sent KOB 4 the following statement:
"The Calvary Church leadership team and staff have made a continuous effort to implement public health guidelines and COVID-safe practices to ensure the health and safety of the congregation. For those to whom the perceived risk to their health and the health of their loved ones outweighs the benefits of worshiping in person, we continue to labor to serve them as best as we can by producing the most engaging online worship experience possible. As good citizens and loving neighbors, the leadership team has cooperated with our state government's public health orders. In fact, we have gone to extensive lengths and great expense to honor, respect, and implement what they have required. Services at our three campuses are contactless and include the use of face coverings and social distancing in all indoor and outdoor spaces. At our Osuna campus, our service is broadcast outside in order to cooperate with the state's indoor seating capacity limit. We have increased cleaning and sanitization before, between, and after services and provide hand sanitizer stations throughout our campuses. Our website and mobile app have become a hub for resources like our weekly bulletin for a touchless experience. We even developed a new app for classes and ministries that need people to check in to decrease contact with laptops, tablets, and other surfaces. We have implemented COVID-safe practices in our on-campus facilities, including capacity management, and traffic flow.
The current public health order's restriction on in-person attendance at our weekly worship services allows a certain number of individuals and families who believe that they have an essential need to gather together with other believers as a matter of preserving their spiritual, mental, and emotional health to do so. For these congregants, the risks of a complete lockdown to their spiritual, mental, and emotional health are equal to or greater than the risk of COVID-19 to their physical health. It is for this reason and others that we believe a healthy local church is an essential operation of a healthy community. Therefore, this month we resumed weekly in-person services at our campuses as allowed by the current public health order. Again, we continue to provide resources for all who gather to wear face coverings, maintain social distance, and properly sanitize. Additionally, regarding our staff, we have and continue to comply with all state requirements regarding reporting. We respect the needs of the people of our community who believe gathering for worship is essential to their overall wellbeing. At the same time, our faith allows us to love and respect all individuals and families who choose to shelter in place. We broadcast our four weekly services online at live.calvarynm.church and calvarykids.online.church. " -Neil Ortiz, Chief Pastoral Officer
Rachel said the church’s comments are out of line.
“There's a lot of lip service,” she said. “Ultimately I don't feel like it's an honest interpretation of that scripture in the slightest."
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