Pastor Ron Arbaugh of Calvary Chapel in San Antonio, Texas accepts full responsibility for a COVID-19 outbreak in his church. More than 50 people in his congregation have tested positive for the deadly respiratory illness.

The church in Universal City reopened in May following the lifting of restrictions in the state, reports News 4 San Antonio. Pastor Arbaugh implemented all government-imposed health protocols before allowing the public to enter church premises. “We kept all of the rules to the letter of the law,” he said.

I accept full responsibility. I’m the leader of the church. —Pastor Ron Arbaugh, Calvary Chapel, TX

Pastor Arbaugh explained that the church followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s social distancing mandates and only had 40% of the church filled with parishioners when the church reopened. Everyone wore masks and the seating was every other row.

Calvary Church has about 1,200 adult members and services are conducted inside a 10,000-square-foot meeting hall in a shopping center. As the weeks went by, it allowed more and more people until attendance grew to 80%, according to San Antonio Express News.

Pastor Arbaugh said before the pandemic, the church has a five-minute “meet and greet” during Sunday services when hugging is encouraged among parishioners. Hugging was prohibited when the church reopened to prevent the spread of the virus. However, after about six weeks of getting back together, Pastor Arbaugh admitted that the no-hugging rule felt “weird.”

“So I told people, ‘Look, I’m not your parent. Go ahead and hug, but make sure the person you’re hugging is OK with it,'” he said.

A week later, a parishioner tested positive and the number quickly increased within the day. As of writing, there are more than 50 people, both staff and parishioners, infected with COVID-19, with at least one patient using a ventilator. Pastor Arbaugh and his wife also caught the virus but were not hospitalized and just quarantined themselves for two weeks. “I didn’t have any symptoms, except I lost my sense of smell and taste,” the pastor said.

Calvary Chapel was immediately closed following the initial cases of COVID-19 among parishioners. The church was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Pastor Arbaugh lamented his decision to allow hugging among parishioners. “I accept full responsibility. I’m the leader of the church,” he said. “If I could go back and do something different, I would have kept the prohibition on hugging inside the church. That’s my responsibility. I’m the one who gave permission.”

Calvary Chapel is set to reopen on July 12th with only one live service instead of the usual three. Strict health guidelines are to be expected. Livestream services will also be available.

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