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Local church continues to hold public services despite COVID-19 closure order

Posted at 5:02 PM, Mar 18, 2021

BALTIMORE — Despite orders from the Baltimore City Health Department to close, a high-profile evangelical church continues to hold services.

From open house tours Wednesday evening, to a public church service Wednesday night, people were in attendance at Greater Grace Church on the city's Northeast side. The evening service was streamed live across social media.

Documents obtained by WMAR-2 News show the evangelical church was ordered to close over a lack of social distancing and masking.

Health inspectors visited the site twice. First in December when issues were noted, and a warning was given.

On a March follow-up visit, inspectors noticed the same issue and ordered the closure.

Wednesday's service featured a live 9-member band. Some wore masks, others didn't. Senior pastor, Thomas Schaller, was also on stage preaching against wearing face masks at places of worship.

During his sermon people in the audience could be heard laughing and clapping. The video also showed people leaving when the service ended.

According to GGWO's website, the service was held from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.

Baltimore City Police arrived with the Health and Housing Departments around 7:30 p.m.

A radio dispatch call obtained by WMAR-2 reveals that officials were not being allowed inside.

On the recording an officer is heard saying, "Standoff with some armed security who are refusing to let us in. I have the health department here, and housing department. They’re supposed to be closed down. They closed down earlier. They re-opened and we need to get all the people out."

Right now, it is unclear if criminal citations are warranted. That will all be decided by Baltimore's Department of Health as it continues its investigation. The officer's body worn camera footage could also reviewed during the investigation.

“This is not a bar room. This is not Home Depot. This is not a bowling alley. This is not the Baltimore Oriole stadium,” said Pastor Thomas Schaller during Wednesday’s service. “This is a church. And when we come in here, God is in charge.”

On Thursday, afternoon a conference call was held to discuss the matter further. On the call was the mayor's office, the health department and the police department.

“Enforcement of the Mayor’s executive order – rooted in the public health data – will continue." said Mayor's Office spokeswoman, Stefanie Mavronis. "While the City has issued a temporary closure notice and citation to Greater Grace Church for violations of Baltimore’s COVID-19 mandates, we remain encouraged by the vast majority of faith institutions that continue to find ways to worship safely during this pandemic.”

WMAR has placed repeated calls to Greater Grace for comment, and have yet to hear back.