When Church is Deadly: A Look at Some COVID-19 Outbreaks in North American Churches

The COVID-19 has been hitting churches hard. The virus does not discriminate between any denomination or person of faith. Across the United States and Canada there have been a number of stories of coronavirus outbreaks. Its troubling and these stories need to be learned from as some discuss re-opening church. 

“Only a fool tests the water with both feet.

African Proverb

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 20:24 ESV


As people discuss re-opening churches there are a number of concerns that exist about church being opened during a pandemic. There have been a number of stories that should trouble people. This blog predicts more stories in the Midwest and South as states re-open and move forward. When the environment is unstable and risky and people could be stricken by a highly contagious virus its time to stop and reassess what your actual goals are in such a decision. Below is a listing of a number of COVID-19 outbreaks that happened in churches that should remind people why worship is not the same as shopping and worshiping in person in church is not essential. While some may disagree with the source this blog reads and follows The Friendly Atheist who explained this issue well in a video.  Those who think church is an essential service I will challenge you to read your Bible.



In Redwood Valley, an Assembly of God Church in Mendocino experienced an outbreak of COVID-19.  Redwood Valley Assembly of God is led by Pastor Jack D McMilin, and this church was live streaming. Those doing the music became infected. . This outbreak was reported in the Los Angeles Times. It appears that three were infected and one is in the hospital. Public health officials are working to mitigate the situation. At another church in Butte County a Mother’s Day service that was held against the health orders of California took place. Two were infected with COVID-19 and 180 showed up for worship. That in itself is troubling. Pastor Mike Jacobson of Palermo Bible Family Church stated that he would never put anyone in harm’s way. If you want to read this story in the Los Angeles Times you can do so in, “More COVID-19 cases linked to California church services.”  CNN also wrote about this as well. You can read that in, “A person who was Covid-19 positive attended a church service and exposed 180 people, officials say.” 


The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta published a report of a disturbing COVID-19 outbreak in rural Arkansas. The report did not name the church. Two people who showed symptoms of COVID-19 showed up for church. In that service 92 were present. 35 tested positive for the virus and three died of the coronavirus. The infection also spread into the community that the church was based in with 26 additional people becoming infected and one dying of the coronavirus. You can read the CDC report in, “High COVID-19 Attack Rate Among Attendees at Events at a Church — Arkansas, March 2020.”  Plus The Daily Beast wrote about this situation as well in, “Disastrous Arkansas COVID Cluster Spells Trouble for Church Openings.” 


Georgia’s Governor became the first state to lead the United States in re-opening. Some churches re-opened including Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle. This church is in NW Georgia not far from Chattanooga, Tennessee resumed in person services on April 26, 2020. An outbreak of COVID-19 broke out in the church and on May 11, 2020 Catoosa decided to end in person worship services. This outbreak occurred even though social distancing was followed, doors opened, and more. The church issued a statement saying, ““Our hearts are heavy as some of our families are dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 virus, and we ask for your prayers for each of them as they follow the prescribed protocol and recuperate at home,”You can read more in the Christian Post in, “Ga. church closes two weeks after reopening as families come down with coronavirus.


The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States began in the Kirkland, Washington area outside Seattle. In Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon had a choir practice with the Skagit Valley Chorale.  Of the 122 who were involved there were two practices in early March.  53 became ill with COVID-19 and two died. If you want to read the Presbyterian’s Church statement on this situation you can do so here.  The CDC also wrote about this incident and it became a turning point in emphasizing social distancing. The singing spread the coronavirus and choir practice became fatal. This has been well covered. I will post some of the news reports about this event. 

  1. CNN, “How coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a Washington choir practice.” 
  2. CNN, “2 dead from coronavirus, 45 ill after March choir rehearsal.” 
  3. Los Angeles Times, “A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead.” 
  4. New York Post, “Washington choir rehearsal turns deadly after coronavirus kills 2.” 
  5. Seattle Times, “Mount Vernon choir outbreak was ‘superspreader event,’ says CDC report on how easily virus spreads.” 


In Calgary, Alberta at Living Spirit United Church a COVID-19 outbreak turned deadly.  This church had a worship service and observed social distancing. They used disinfectant and followed health guidelines. At a social after the service 24 or the 41 people became infected with COVID-19. Several became ill and one ended up in the ICU where they died. The pastor of this church is dealing with a lot of guilt and is using he situation to educate others to take COVID-19. She is active in the Canadian press. You can read more about this situation in, “‘I would do anything for a do-over’: Calgary church hopes others learn from their tragic COVID-19 experience.” 


Closing Thoughts

All of these stories stand as warnings about a highly contagious disease that poses a public health threat. This blog wants people to resume life and live. This writer wants to resume life. But action that is done without thinking or respecting something dangerous can have devastating consequences. Let’s learn from all the above situations so that more lives can be saved and families and organizations can be spared of grief. We are going to have to make changes so that economically people can work in some capacity. Its not an either/or decision. Both need to be considered. But we should learn from the painful stories above so that people will not be harmed. That is the goal of this post. 

9 thoughts on “When Church is Deadly: A Look at Some COVID-19 Outbreaks in North American Churches

  1. “Ga. church closes two weeks after reopening as families come down with coronavirus.“

    Two weeks.
    The incubation period of COVID-19.
    The time it takes for symptoms to show after infection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sports arenas, movie theaters, schools, churches…they are all closed for the same reason. They attract large groups of people that can infect each other. Churches, on top of having larger groups of people, also have one of the groups more susceptible to COVID-19-seniors. Church members also don’t seem to understand the difference between a few hundred people at Costco/Home Depot, and a few hundred people at church. The big box store people are constantly moving around. They are not seating close together, all breath the same air, and singing songs. (And, this just past 60 senior goes to stores early in the morning to miss crowds in general).
    I’m in a part of California where churches can’t open yet, but my church (about 1/3 seniors0 is planning a soft, online/mulit small service format. Other ministries, like children, youth, etc will be phased in gradually. It’s also EFCA, and it is keeping tags on the suggestions coming out of district leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Our church did the survey thing too, and now is going to try to have outdoor services in the parking lot for a few weeks. That’s great, but we’re going to stick with the online services. I say services because all these churches going online have given me a chance to “attend” lots more than the one church we belong to; last weekend I was able to see three. I am looking for a good Saturday night service to tune in to; any recommendations? Preferably a church without any ongoing sex abuse scandals, but beggars can’t be choosers.

    The EFCA church we attended decades ago has decided that it would be maximally loving for them to be one of the last to reopen. They don’t want to be put into the position of feeling like they should turn someone away at the door because of that person’s risk status. They’re big enough that they’ve been able to do lots of stuff virtually anyway in terms of small groups, youth group etc. They’re also big enough that if they had a superspreader event it could really impact the community in a negative way.

    Our local school district is starting to have a conversation about next year and some of the same principles apply to churches and schools. We want them to follow generally safe practices, and we want to maximize flexibility and not lose the ability to keep doing things online/virtual, for the benefit of those who feel like they need to keep doing that. There are probably many families who can be safely exposed to the virus and I see no need to prohibit them from doing things in person (it would be better for society for the young and healthy to get it and get over it), but if a family contains or comes into contact with high risk people then they should probably continue to shelter in place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s a new term for COVID-19 carriers, both asymptomatic (NO symptoms, currently estimated at around 1/4 of those infected) and those with minimal/minor symptoms (like cold/sniffles):
    Google it sometime.


  5. Pingback: Evidence Suggests That Evangelical Churches Meeting During a Pandemic Are Helping to Worsen COVID-19 and Accelerate the Spread in the United States. Also Ed Stetzer Responds to a New York Times Article | Wondering Eagle

  6. Pingback: When Church is Dangerous to Your Health: Kevin Byrum’s Uplink in Menominee Falls, Wisconsin Discourages Face Masks During a Pandemic | Wondering Eagle

Comments are closed.