SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Photos of a local church’s Christmas service are still circulating on social media, sparking reactions of both disapproval and defense.

The James River Church “James River Christmas” event took place over the weekend of Dec. 5, 2020. A photo from the service is now making the rounds on Facebook.

In the photo, some attendees appear masked. Many others are not masked. Many more are seemingly sitting less than six feet apart. Following the event, social media users and medical professionals alike shared their disapproval.

“I was shocked and deeply saddened to see photos from the James River event over the weekend,” Springfield-Greene County Health Director Clay Goddard said on Twitter the following Monday.

Steve Edwards, the outspoken President and CEO of Cox Health also weighed in.

“If there’s a time to need faith, it’s right now, so I get that. I think that we have to realize that the disease doesn’t care about a religion, it wants to replicate and it does so by congregating, and there are safer ways to congregate so if you must congregate, please distance, wear a mask.”

Steve Edwards’ statement

Now, the church is responding. In part, James River’s statement promises to increase COVID-19 prevention efforts.

We take seriously the safety and health of those who attend our services. We have strongly encouraged masking and social distancing each and every weekend during this challenging season. For the Christmas services, additional services were added to further provide for social distancing. Going forward, we are committed to doing a better job of encouraging and maintaining the procedures necessary to keep people safe and secure. Throughout the pandemic, in addition to encouraging masking and social distancing, we have done the following at each service to keep people safe:

  1. Take temperatures at the door
  2. Fog-sanitize our auditoriums
  3. Multiple times per day sanitize the children’s areas and the common areas
  4. Provide masks to everyone who attends

Our heart at James River Church has always been to minister to people in our community. During this pandemic, we have helped thousands of people with food, financial assistance, counsel, and spiritual encouragement. Most of all we want people to know that God loves and cares for them.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department posted a thread of tweets saying it reached out to the church before the event:

Some in attendance of the church’s Christmas event tell Ozarks First many spectators arrived wearing masks but removed them once they found their seats within the sanctuary.