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Lodi church tries, fails to hold service amid stay at home orders

The pastor and his congregation worshiped on the street as a compromise.

LODI, Calif. — Pastor Jon Duncan of the Cross Culture Christian Church in Lodi went down on his knees praying with members of his congregation.

"We as a church are pretty resilient. Our hope and prayer is obviously that soon the church would be considered essential as it should be," said Duncan.

But, praying on the street is not exactly what the pastor had planned.

Lodi Police officers met him outside the church building informing him of a San Joaquin County Public Health order "prohibiting public assemblies of any size that are not essential for life and safety."

A church service scheduled for 11:15 a.m. never happened.

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"I think we came to an agreement, and they're not planning on holding an assembly here today, so," said Lt. Michael Manetti.

Worship on the street ended up being a compromise, but there were more surprises for the pastor.

When Pastor Duncan came to the church for the service, he discovered the locks had been changed.

Bethel Church, which Cross Culture leases space from, rendered Duncan's keys useless.

Duncan still believes it's his constitutional right of freedom of religion to hold services as a congregation despite the deadly pandemic.

"But, we don't believe a virus suspends our 1st Amendment," said Duncan.

Church members like Danielle Harvey agree.

"I think it's awesome that the pastor is willing to stand up for the rights that the Constitution was written for - the right to assemble in a decent manner," said Harvey.

In a letter to Lodi Police, an attorney representing the church said quote: "I must insist that you and your officers respect CCCC's constitutional rights and immediately cease and desist any and all unlawful police threats of enforcement actions or enforcement actions against the church."

Breaking the emergency order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and/or jail time.

Pastor Duncan says he will consult with his attorney to consider what to do next.

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