Albuquerque churches speak out after being fined by state for health order violations

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The two megachurches, facing fines from the state for holding in-person services over the holiday, are speaking out.

Calvary Church in a statement says it will fight the $10,000 fines for holding a mass gathering and for people not wearing masks. The church says vulnerable people were discouraged from attending the Christmas Eve service, they maintained the capacity limits, and that they encouraged people to wear masks. Pictures show that was not the case for most people and Calvary adds it has distributed $1.5 million to people in need during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Legacy Church Pastor Steven Smothermon on Facebook Thursday defended the church against accusations they were being selfish for hosting a Christmas service. He listed all the donations the church has made during the pandemic saying, “We will continue to conduct peaceful protests against this governor’s orders,” though it’s unclear what that entails.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the governor’s office for a comment but have not heard back. Read the full statements below.

Legacy Church Pastor Steven Smothermon said the following in a Facebook post:

The Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, told NBC we were selfish. This is coming from the lady who made the sick and elderly stand in modern-day bread lines just to get groceries. She called us selfish for having a peaceful protest to celebrate the birth of Jesus that people voluntarily chose to attend.

Selfish?

Legacy Church is a congregation of great people who, during the Covid-19 crisis, have given:

– 21,952 packs of nonperishable food for Feed New Mexico Kids
– $50,000 donated to VIC (Veterans Integration Center) to help them on their mission to help Veterans & the community locally
– $175,000 donated to Make-A-Wish New Mexico
– Helped eliminate $1,894,800 in hospital bills for people in New Mexico
– 750 masks for the city of ABQ employees
– 708 meal boxes to the Zia and San Felipe Pueblos
– 255 masks for Navajo Nation
– 80,000 local lunches partnering with Central Grill and Steelbridge ministries
– 5,232 elderly care packages
– 3057 family care packages
– 281 first responder and medical staff meals that feed a family of 4
– 487 units of blood donated
– 4810 families served through our partnership with Roadrunner Food Bank

I knew that during this time, we needed to be the Church more than ever. Some people decided to slow down, but we decided to speed up. We didn’t want to let this shut down, shut us down. We will never stop being the Church.
We will continue to conduct peaceful protests against this Governor’s orders.
PSS

Pastor Steve Smothermon

Calvary Church provided the following statement:

On December 24, 2020, Calvary Church in New Mexico hosted our annual Christmas Eve services. While the risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated, the services were designed to reduce the risk of spread. Vulnerable people were discouraged from attending, every other row was cordoned off in the church’s spacious sanctuaries, mask-wearing was encouraged, and family units that came together sat together. We are also confident that we maintained capacity levels in keeping with our state’s current public health order. 

Nonetheless, the church received a notice of contemplated action from the State of New Mexico Department of Health stating that the authorities intend to fine the church thousands of dollars in connection with its Christmas Eve worship services. As a church, we remain committed to following all reasonable guidelines for ensuring the well-being of our members. In fact, Governor Lujan Grisham praised us earlier this year for our efforts, so we are especially shocked by the incendiary and politicized rhetoric from the governor’s office.

Calvary Church has always enjoyed a positive relationship with our city and state and has embraced an attitude of mutual cooperation. The church will continue to do so. Yet, Calvary will also be requesting an administrative hearing in accordance with the applicable state regulations to contest these monetary penalties. Calvary should not be penalized for properly exercising its first amendment freedoms during the pandemic — a position supported by recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court. 

Churches are not entertainment venues like theaters or stadiums. Our congregations provide essential services to our communities. Faith continues to play an indispensable role in helping individuals cope with the direct and indirect aspects of this public health crisis. For instance, Calvary alone has distributed over $1.5 million dollars of direct assistance to those in need in our community over the course of the pandemic.

We will never waiver from our commitment to honor God in all that we do, serve our community according to our calling, and follow best practices as long as this crisis persists. 

We simply could not take away from healthy people the opportunity to choose to worship at Christmas.

NEIL ORTIZ, CHIEF PASTORAL OFFICE

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