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US pastor hands himself in to police after still holding services despite social distancing rules

by Cara Bentley

The River church in Tampa, Florida, has continued to hold services despite the danger they pose to the spread of coronavirus. 

The River, a charismatic congregation whose motto is 'Church with a Difference', has certainly bucked the trend with their latest decision to boldly claim that they will not close their doors despite the threat to life from the pandemic. 

The church was founded by Rodney & Adonica Howard-Browne but Rodney has now been arrested after handing himself in to police after he flouted the rules at the weekend. 

Rodney Howard-Browne was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. His bail was $500 and he was released. 

Pastor Howard-Browne said in a recent service that it was a free speech issue, saying: "We are not a non-essential service…suddenly we are demonised because we believe in a God who heals."

Sheriff Chad Chronister, Hillsborough County Sheriff, said the preacher "intentionally and repeatedly disregarded state and local public health orders, which put his congregation and our community in danger."

In a video posted on the church's Facebook page Rodney hinted that the church would be closed this weekend, saying: "this weekend, let's see how much I want to jeopardise the people, and that's all I'm gonna say."



The River normally holds two services at different locations in the morning and a student meeting on Sunday evenings. 

The church said in a statement on 19th March: "In a time of national crisis, we expect certain institutions to be open and certain people to be on duty" and lists hospitals, police and firefighters. 

"The Church is another one of those essential services. It is a place where people turn for help and for comfort in a climate of fear and uncertainty.

"Therefore, we feel that it would be wrong for us to close our doors on them, at this time, or any time. In a time of crisis, people are fearful and in need of comfort and community, more than ever before."

They add that they are doing "everything in our power to support the efforts of our wider community by cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and take any other recommended measures to protect our people and keep them healthy and safe" and recommend that those feeling unwell stay at home. 

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