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Oregon church won’t close after COVID-19 outbreak infected 74 members, pastor says


(SALEM, Ore.) — Returning to the pulpit after a COVID-19 outbreak infected him, his wife and 72 members of their congregation, the senior pastor of an Oregon church said Sunday that he will not kowtow to pressure to close the doors to the house of worship.

Pastor Scott Erickson of the Peoples Church in Salem, Oregon, began his Mother’s Day sermon by addressing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in his church and throughout the state.

“In the last several days, it is apparent that voices in our community and region want the church of Jesus Christ to be quiet and to be closed,” Erickson told those in attendance at the church and others watching a livestream online broadcast. “Not us, not here, not now. That’s not what we’re doing.”

Peoples Church was among 10 churches in Oregon that joined together to file a lawsuit in May 2020 asking the Baker County Circuit Court to issue a temporary restraining order blocking Oregon Gov. Kate Brown from enforcing stay-at-home executive regulations against churches. The lawsuit argued that Brown’s restrictions on churches violated constitutional protections for religious freedom.

In December, Brown lifted restrictions on religious gatherings, changing them to “guidelines.” Brown’s decision came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court barred New York from enforcing strict attendance limits on churches in areas that were designated as COVID-19 hot spots.

Erickson, 70, who has been pastor of Peoples Church for 21 years, said his decision to keep the church open was, in his opinion, not an act of defiance.

“We’ll press on and honor what Jesus said in his word. He said, ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ I believe his word is true,” Erickson said.

The pastor’s Sunday sermon came after the Oregon Health Authority announced Wednesday that it launched an investigation on April 6 into the coronavirus outbreak at the church that left 74 members infected.

Erickson tied the church’s outbreak to one that has spread across the state in the past month, including in Marion County, where Salem is located.

On Saturday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 833 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths related to the virus over the past seven days.

Since the pandemic began, Oregon has reported a total of 190,804 cases statewide, including 2,528 deaths.

“Thousands in our region were afflicted with symptoms of the virus,” Erickson said. “Some on our staff and some that worship among us were those that experienced challenges that accompanied the virus.”

Erickson spoke little about the bouts with COVID-19 that he and his wife endured.

“First time in 48 years of ministry that I had to call in sick,” he said. “So, it’s kind of a very strange feeling to have missed three Sundays in a row.”

On April 18, an assistant pastor at the church announced that Erickson and his wife, Bonnie, were hospitalized after COVID-19 diagnoses and that the pastor had developed pneumonia in his left lung.

Sunday marked Erickson’s return to in-person services since the diagnosis.

“The church of Jesus Christ is the only hope for our community and for our region and our state,” Erickson said. “And so we continue to magnify Jesus here as a church, and we’re not in defiance. We are here just to tell people the good news that Jesus loves our city and he loves the people of Oregon.”

Erickson added, “So we remain cautious here at Peoples Church and continue to provide a safe and anointed environment where people can experience God’s presence and draw on his power.”

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