Pastor resigns from Thousand Oaks city council as church’s plan to offer communion draws criticism

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A pastor criticized for his church’s plan to serve communion on Palm Sunday amid the coronavirus outbreak has resigned from his seat on the Thousand Oaks City Council.

Rob McCoy’s resignation is effective immediately, said a statement from the city on Sunday.

McCoy serves as a senior pastor at the Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, which planned to livestream its Palm Sunday service at 11 a.m. then open its doors from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for members who wish to take communion.

The church said there will be markers to help congregants stay 6 feet apart. People will be able to pick up the communion elements from a table before they take them on chairs that have been appropriately spaced out, the church said.

On its website, the church urged those who are sick or at a higher risk for illness to stay home and encouraged people who are planning to attend wear masks and gloves. The church has also offered to bring communion elements to members’ cars or deliver them to their home.

As city and state officials ban large gatherings and the closure of non-essential businesses, many local churches have moved their services online.

But in a video posted to YouTube on Friday, McCoy argued that communion was essential and suggested that rules allowing liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries remain open were unfair. He also took issue that while non-essential surgeries have been canceled, “across the country abortions are considered essential.”

“Is the church going to sit back and say, ‘Well we’ll be relegated to non-essential?'” McCoy said. “Though we feed people, and that is essential physical food. …. Truth of the matter is we have the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law restricting or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”

Several people have taken to social media expressing disapproval of the church’s plans after a Reuters article about faith leaders defying Palm Sunday quarantines quoted McCoy.

“[Newbury Park] and [Thousand Oaks] are going to suffer HUGE outbreak if he is allowed to hold this service,” Katie Atkins tweeted Saturday evening.

Marcella Ketelhut also tweeted, “I’m a crazy devout Catholic. I miss Mass terribly. But I also follow the law. Rob should too. It’s not revolutionary. It’s just wrong.”

Another Twitter user said, “I’m FILLED with anger over this. I want a letter from Rob McCoy apologizing to my immune compromised child and my high risk parents.”

On Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged religious leaders to do their part in the fight against the pandemic.

“Don’t put other people’s lives on the line,” he said. “The faith-based community’s all about love. If you love thy neighbor, you will practice physical distancing. You won’t put them in a congregant setting to put their lives at risk.”

Some church members, however, welcomed the church’s offer for communion.

Carol Roberg, a 77-year-old Camarillo resident and a member of the Godspeak church, told the Thousand Oaks Acorn that she was excited to receive communion because many seniors like her have been isolated during the stay-at-home order.

“In Scripture it says there’s healing in communion and I think we all need that, body, soul and spirit, at this time because a lot of people are experiencing depression,” she told the outlet.

In the statement from the city of Thousand Oaks, Mayor Al Adam recognized McCoy’s “voice of strength and healing” after the Borderline mass shooting and during the Woolsey Fire.

“While these circumstances are unfortunate, the remaining members of the Council and I are very much focused on moving forward,” Adam said.

McCoy served as Thousand Oaks’ mayor from December 2018 to December 2019.

He and the Godspeak Calvary Chapel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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