Some churches defy Anchorage’s COVID-19 order limiting large indoor gatherings

A white church with a tall steeple and mirrored glass on the front surrounded by several trees
Anchorage Baptist Temple on Aug. 12, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

A handful of Anchorage churches have defied the city’s emergency order that limits the size of gatherings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Anchorage Baptist Temple, one of Anchorage’s largest churches, held in-person services on Sunday, about a week after the emergency order took effect that prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 15 people, including for religious services.

It’s unclear exactly how many people attended Sunday’s service, but a video of it shows more than 15. Most appeared to be keeping 6 feet away from one another. The church normally has a congregation of up to 2,000, according to news reports from recent years. 

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In his sermon on Sunday, Pastor Ron Hoffman addressed the issue in a video that was posted on Anchorage Baptist Temple’s Facebook page. 

“When our civil authority says something, we find ourselves in a quandary. But we must always obey God. We cannot stop sharing the gospel. We will not stop worshiping God. We will not stop being the church. We cannot stop, it won’t happen,” he said to loud applause. 

Hoffman explained that while congregants are normally called on to obey civil authority, they should not obey that authority when it conflicts with the teachings of God. 

And at least one member of the Anchorage Assembly, Jamie Allard, was also in attendance, according to a post on her official Facebook page. 

At left, a white woman with wavy blond hair in a blue dress with her arm around a younger white woman with a red dress and brown hair. Pews and other congregants are visible in the background.
Post on Assemblywoman Jamie Allard’s Facebook page taken on Aug. 12, 2020.

Officials from the church did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Jack Frost, chief of code enforcement for the municipality, said that an officer with the department contacted the Anchorage Baptist Temple this week. While Frost did not participate in the meetings, he said he was told a code enforcement officer met with high-level church officials in a telephone call. 

“They had a discussion on what the compliance measures were,” Frost said. “And then he provided them the address of the link and they said they were going to review the Emergency Order and proceed from there. So I’m not sure what that means.”

Frost said his department generally responds to complaints from the public before contacting organizations or businesses that are not in compliance. He said that if there are more complaints, the municipality would send a code enforcement officer to verify that the church is not in compliance. After that, he said, they could potentially issue a stop-work order. 

A handful of other churches have indicated that they are not complying with the measure, though it’s unclear how many people have attended services. Art Mathias of Wellspring Ministries in Anchorage said that he thinks the scripture is clear, but did not provide any details about his service. 

“We have chosen to obey God’s laws and assemble on Sabbath as the Scriptures tell us to do,” he said in a prepared statement. 

King’s Chapel in Eagle River also posted videos on Facebook of its temple showing crowds exceeding what is allowed by the emergency order. 

Many churches, temples and the mosque in Anchorage say they are complying with the municipality’s mandates that prohibit larger indoor gatherings. In July, an outbreak was linked to a church in Anchorage. That was before the latest emergency order went into effect.