A voice calling over a megaphone addressed an incredibly reckless meeting of the faithful at the sea’s edge in Orange County in Southern California.
“Have your sins washed away, now’s the time.”
As if gathering by the hundreds without masks or regard for social distancing on Friday evening was not itself a sin when COVID-19 was continuing to rage.
This was the fifth weekly revival meeting held by an evangelical couple in their thirties who branded their effort Saturate OC. Their stated purpose is to fill Orange County with faith. That would be fine if the OC were not so saturated with COVID that cases have more than tripled from 12,000 to 36,106 in those same five weeks.
The first revivals were held by lifeguard tower 20 on the sand in Huntington Beach. The authorities did nothing in response to the first three Saturate OC meetings run by 35-year-old Jessi Green and 33-year-old Parker Green. The fourth was a few hours from commencing when the couple was issued a citation for holding an event without a permit and for violating health measures instituted as a result of the pandemic. The couple went anyway.
“This is our last night at tower 20 and that’s good news,” Jessi announced to the crowd when she arrived. “This afternoon we had the police up at our house and we got written a citation.”
She then said, “I just felt like that was just an honor. I just never thought that something like that could happen in America. It was just such a privilege.”
She said they had “gotten a lot of persecution because of COVID.”
“Honestly, I believe if we all got COVID, it would end COVID,” she actually declared. “The worst thing that could happen is us going to the hospital and praying for everyone.”
As always, the crowd had almost without exception ignored a token advisory to wear a mask at the event. A number of the faithful were wearing official Saturate OC apparel such as the $38 “Jesus is Alive relaxed tank.” The attendees had been reminded to bring their credit cards.
“To purchase merch,” the notice advised.
The “Saturate OC Collection” does not include masks to help keep people alive.
After socially not-distanced prayer and song and baptisms, the Greens ended the last of the gatherings at Huntington Beach and the authorities might have imagined they had belatedly accomplished something. But the couple simply held the next revival 5 miles down the coast at Newport Beach on Friday evening.
The 6 p.m. start time was the same. The latest revival began on an expansive lawn between Newport elementary school and the beach, allowing the faithful to begin by observing an approximation of social distancing. That began to disappear as preaching began and people began to gather around Parker.
Just a word from him and everybody would have kept six feet away. Another word and they would have covered their faces.
But instead of maybe saving some lives, he told the crowd that those who so desired would soon have an opportunity to be baptised in the Pacific Ocean.
“Which is kind of a cool way to get saved,” he said.
The faithful headed across a stretch of asphalt to the beach and continued to where the tides had cut a ledge into the sand. They stood shoulder to shoulder and cheered as pairs of baptizers in yellow shirts waded into the surf with baptizees. The ritual consisted of tipping the person back into the foaming sea. There was much smiling and embracing and such as could almost make someone who watched the live video forget that the people were not endangering their lives and the lives of anybody they might encounter.
A municipal lifeguard stood ready in case she was needed, a responsibility which the Orange County authorities had ducked by permitting the event in the first place. The Newport Police kept watch from a distance.
“Bless our police officers who keep us safe,” a voice called over the megaphone.
But to have kept people safe would have been to instruct everybody to keep six feet apart and to wear masks, as are now mandated in California. The police were joined by the Orange County authorities in doing absolutely nothing. Neither the police department nor the county health department returned repeated calls for comment.
”Last call for baptisms,” the voice then announced.
The faithful returned to the lawn, now standing closer together than before. Jessi, who calls herself an entrepreneur and an evangelist, stepped atop a low wall and took the megaphone as the sun was getting golden where sea and sky met.
“We’re going to worship and receive the fullness of everything God has for you,” she said in conclusion.
There was applause and more singing and more mingling much too close without masks. And the virus kept saturating the OC.
“See you next week,” somebody could be heard saying.