The sound of waves crashing on the shore was drowned out at Cardiff State Beach Sunday evening as hundreds of people raised their hands and voices to the Lord while defying public health orders that prohibit large gatherings.
At the same time, they were protesting the closure of their churches because of the health orders issued to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“They miss their church families,” said Pastor Barry Sappington, who helped organize the gathering. “They miss worshipping. Worship is a core part of a Christ follower’s life and as you can see people don’t want to go anywhere, they want to gather, they want to worship and this is a perfect venue for them to do so.”
Sappington said he wasn’t surprised to see more than 1,200 people in the sand joining in prayer, in song and in protest. Most of those in attendance learned about the event through social media.
One of the people who spoke and sang was Sean Feucht, the founder of a grassroots worship organization who also happens to be a musician. He later posted on Twitter that his son was one of the people baptized in the waters off Cardiff State Beach.
Heather Molchanoff of El Cajon told NBC 7 it's frustrating to be barred from practicing her faith with friends and family.
“It’s such a double standard, right? You have protesters who can go out, do gatherings like this and nothing is spoken about; if anything, it's praised," Molchanoff said. "But then we’re not allowed to gather in church on Sunday.”
Molchanoff wasn’t wearing a mask, and neither was most of the crowd.
At one point during the two-hour event, worshippers were encouraged to reach out and touch one another. That was something Pastor Sappington said was not planned.
“But it happened, so we will believe that everybody is going to be fine,” he said. “We’ll pray that they’ll be protected.”
Although Sappington told NBC 7 that the group had a permit for the protest, California State Parks Lifeguards said no permit had been issued. They estimated the crowd at 1,250 or more, and said problems associated with the gathering were minor.