Tampa pastor who was arrested during coronavirus outbreak will hold first in-person church service this weekend

His lawyer says 2,800 people have already registered for the event.

click to enlarge Tampa pastor who was arrested during coronavirus outbreak will hold first in-person church service this weekend
Photo via The River/Facebook


Tampa evangelical pastor and conspiracy theorist Rodney Howard-Browne will host his first in-person church service since he was arrested for defying local shutdown orders and holding services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Howard-Browne, a diehard Trump supporter and the head pastor at The River Tampa Bay Church, says he will hold a Pentecost service this Sunday, May 31, at 9:30 a.m. in his parking lot, which will be covered in Astroturf.

As of Thursday, Tampa's weather forecast calls for a high of 88-degrees and a 40% chance of rain.

According to a statement from Howard-Browne's lawyer, Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, the parking lot can accommodate 8,000-10,000 people, who are encouraged to bring their own chairs, and “right of admission is reserved and registration is required for entry.”

Staver says 2,800 people have already registered for the event. 

Howard-Browne has referred to the upcoming service as “The Stand,” and posted about it in a Twitter video this afternoon.

“Welcome to the field of dreams,” says Howard-Browne in the video, while standing in his parking lot covered in fake grass. “We’ve been locked down, shut down, but no more. We’re standing. It’s going to be epic."


It’s unclear exactly why Howard-Browne, who has publicly downplayed the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning, is holding Sunday’s service outside in a hot parking lot with no chairs, rather than inside his own building. But it’s worth noting that in April his lawyer Mat Staver mentioned in a Facebook Live video that the The River at Tampa Bay lost its insurance. The Liberty Counsel has since stated that Staver misspoke in the video, and that the church does in fact have insurance. 

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reached out to Staver for comment and he has yet to get back to us. 

Earlier this month, the office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren announced that Howard-Browne’s charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, have been dropped

The announcement came shortly after Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister visited Howard-Browne at his Hernando County home for lunch on April 29, a meeting critics have cited as possibly unethical.

Howard-Browne has been a massive critic of anything related to the coronavirus outbreak. A recent manifesto posted to his church’s website refers to the United Nations and the World Health Organization as the “antichrist system.” Also, in just the past few weeks, Howard-Browne has called Hillary Clinton a “practicing witch,” suggested that face masks aren’t necessary, stated that pastors who don’t open their churches need to “grow a pair,” and, of course, that he plans on banking on his fame with the release a book in June about the COVID-19 pandemic, called “The Phantom Virus: How An Unseen Enemy Shut Down The Planet!”

Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you up to the minute news on how Coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.

Follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news + views. Subscribe to our newsletter, too.

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, Chava Communications.
Scroll to read more Tampa Bay News articles

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.