By Justin Horey
Because of a major COVID-19 outbreak among the church’s staff, volunteers, and members, Journey Christian Church announced it will suspend the in-person worship services at its campuses in Apopka and Lake County, Florida, for a third straight week.
Lead pastor John Hampton called the situation at Journey “a COVID crisis.” Hampton normally takes a monthlong sabbatical each July, but he cut his break short this year after learning about the alarming number of coronavirus cases spreading through the congregation.
The first new infection at Journey was detected during the week of July 5, when a staff member became ill and tested positive for the virus. Within 24 hours after the first positive test, that one infection had increased to “double digits,” according to associate lead pastor Dustin Aagaard.
Journey closed its offices in response to the outbreak, which had reached 17 known cases among the church staff and volunteers by Friday, July 9. Just five days later, there were at least 40 known cases among that group. Today, the exact number is unknown. Hampton estimated that 60 to 70 staff members and volunteers have already tested positive.
The outbreak has not been limited to one ministry or service area at Journey, which averaged 2,490 in 2019. Hampton reported that every single department at the church has been affected, with many departments experiencing multiple infections.
Sadly, many of the cases are serious.
“People are suffering—people we love, people we know,” Hampton said. The wife of one Journey pastor is currently hospitalized and intubated.
In an attempt to curb the spread, Journey Christian Church has suspended not only its weekend worship services, but all large, in-person gatherings for the time being—including a youth conference and a worship conference. All church employees who are healthy enough to work are still working from home.
This weekend, both of Journey’s campuses will serve as mass-vaccination sites.
Some have criticized the church’s decision to shut down its worship services.
“People have said . . . you’re acting in fear,” Hampton said in a video posted to the church’s Facebook page. “I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think we’re acting in a way that’s prudent, to protect . . . and do what’s best for the most people.
“Because of the way COVID has been spreading in Florida in particular—and frankly in states that don’t have high vaccination rates . . . I want to encourage you to get vaccinated. . . . It’s a shame that this has become so politicized. It shouldn’t be. It’s a matter of public safety and it’s a matter of health.”