Tampa pastor who held service during coronavirus outbreak says he won’t open church this Sunday

“At this time, I have not made any decision about Easter Sunday or services thereafter,” said Howard-Browne in the statement.

click to enlarge Tampa pastor who held service during coronavirus outbreak says he won’t open church this Sunday
Photo via The River/Facebook

The evangelical pastor who was arrested after holding two services at his Tampa megachurch, despite local and state restrictions regarding the coronavirus outbreak, says he will not open his church this Sunday.

In a statement released from his lawyer, Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, head pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church Rodney Howard-Browne said it is “prudent to take a pause by not opening the church doors this Sunday,” but said the church will not close indefinitely and that he has not made a decision on the upcoming Easter Sunday service. 

“At this time, I have not made any decision about Easter Sunday or services thereafter,” said Howard-Browne in the statement. “Adonica [his wife] and I are praying and seeking the Lord for wisdom.” 

Howard-Browne also went on to deny all charges brought by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, which included unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both are second-degree misdemeanors, punishable up to 60 days in jail, with a maximum fine of $500. 

He also confirmed that he was arrested at his home in Hernando County, but not because his church followers are heavily armed, as Chronister suggested. “Sheriff Chronister made statements at the press conference that the arrest was conducted at my home because the church has an arsenal of weapons,” said Howard-Browne. “This is patently false. The church, like many churches, had armed off-duty deputies on Sunday to provide protection against anyone who might have ill intentions.”

The South African-born pastor and diehard Trump supporter made headlines in 2017 for hanging a warning sign on his church’s doors that read “WE ARE HEAVILY ARMED.” 

“If the church holds service this coming Sunday and the Sheriff chooses to arrest me again under this unconstitutional Executive Order,” continued Howard Browne, “he will probably have to arrest all of our pastors for preaching in my place. Personally, I do not want to put my pastoral staff in a position of having to choose between criminal arrest or carrying out our God-given mission to worship together and lead people to Jesus.”

Howard-Browne ended the statement with, “May God grant us wisdom and blessings as we approach this sacred time of Palm Sunday and Easter.”

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced an executive order calling for a statewide 30-day stay-at-home order to go into effect this Friday, which also included churches as “essential activities.” However, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor touched on this topic during her daily Facebook Live broadcast, clarifying that people "can go back to church in other areas" but not in Hillsborough County.

"So, what occurred at The River Church on Sunday, it was not allowable then and it's not allowable today, and it's not allowable Sunday either," said Castor. "It was a very reckless decision on the part of that pastor, and we are able to have more stringent regulations than the state's order." 

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About The Author

Colin Wolf

Colin Wolf has been working with weekly newspapers since 2007 and has been the Digital Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa since 2019. He is also the Director of Digital Content Strategy for CL's parent company, Euclid Media Group.
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