Bethel and Fellow Believers Beneath the Bridge: Thousands Flock to Sundial Bridge to Worship During a Pandemic

Let Us Worship participants and believers crowd around Sean Feucht and musicians. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Approaching the Sundial Bridge in Redding last night, the first indication that something big was happening was the sight of vehicles; hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. Parked cars, trucks, vans, bikes and Segways covered all available asphalt, parking lots and dirt areas around the Redding Civic Auditorium, the Sundial Bridge/Turtle Bay, the Sheraton Hotel, and even the Redding Rodeo grounds.

Those who couldn’t find parking along Auditorium Drive parked along Park Marina Drive and walked across the freeway overpass, carrying folding chairs and children, as if heading for Redding’s annual Freedom Festival fireworks show.

Of course, this year, because of the pandemic, the Civic Auditorium grounds were off limits for watching the annual fireworks display. Strangely, however, last night in Redding the pandemic didn’t interfere with a Bethel Church-related event that drew thousands of people from Bethel, but from other churches, and from not just the North State, but from far outside Shasta County’s borders.

Next came the sound that amplified for miles; a cacophony of musical instruments and harmonizing human voices lifted in heavenly songs, punctuated with the roar of cheers, yells, whoops and applause. These sounds reverberated across the Sacramento River from beneath the Sundial Bridge. This is a popular place for musicians to practice, not just because of its close proximity to the beautiful Sacramento River, but because of the echoing acoustics provided by the famous pedestrian bridge’s sweeping curved walls, covered in thousands of tiny white imported Italian mosaic tiles, each placed by hand.

From the Turtle Bay Museum side of the Sundial Bridge, the crowd could be seen below the bridge, up the hillside, and flanking both sides of the bridge. Photo by Steve DuBois.

A security guard who stood watch at the Sundial Bridge entrance estimated that about 5,000 people had crossed the bridge Wednesday night for the outdoor worship service that began at 7:30 p.m. sharp and lasted until about 9 p.m.

“That’s my best guess,” the security guard said with a shrug when asked to surmise how many people were there that night.

“A lot of people, that’s for sure.”

Minor understatement.

A mob of evangelical Christians crowd the pathway that leads beneath the Sundial Bridge for a glimpse of the area where Sean Feucht spoke and musicians performed. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Mike Mangas of KRCR TV reported on his Facebook page Wednesday night that Bethel Church leadership said the huge gathering of Bethel Church members under the Sundial Bridge in Redding was not a sanctioned church event. Mangas said Shasta County Public Health said they were told by the organizer that it would be a “small” gathering, so a permit was not required.

Thousands of North State evangelical Christians gather to worship beneath the Sundial Bridge in Redding Wednesday evening. Photo by Mike Mangas, KRCR TV.

The event, called Let Us Worship, was far from a small gathering, as mobs of believers and supporters descended in droves upon the Sundial Bridge area. The “Let Us Worship” organizer at the Sundial Bridge was Sean Feucht, a Bethel Church member and volunteer worship leader.

There’s no way to know what percentage of “Let Us Worship” participants were from Bethel Church, as what percentage were from other faith-based organizations and churches. But because Bethel Church draws parishioners from around the world, a variety of accents and languages could be heard spoken throughout the crowd. A bridge of Babel, if you will.

The masses filled the concrete area under the bridge. The overflow audience was scattered along the adjacent grassy hillside.

People packed tightly together along the curving path that meandered to the bridge’s underside, where, at nightfall, people were bathed the blue light through the bridge’s glass panels above.

After the event ended at 9 p.m., many people stayed behind. Photo by Doni Chamberlain.

While some adults hung out after the event was over to talk or pray or worship, some children played, shimmied up the cables above the bridge, or scooted along the tiled walls below.

Children played while adults mingled after the event. One little girl scooted up one of the bridge’s tiled walls. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

In addition to Let Us Worship  organizer Feucht (pronounced FOYT – rhymes with exploit) having strong Bethel Church connections, he’s also a former political candidate who was badly beaten in his bid for Congress. Faucht’s website describes him as a missionary, artist, speaker, author, activist and the founder of multiple worldwide movements such as Burn 24/7, Light a Candle, and Hold the Line, “a political activist movement seeking to rally the global church to engage in their civic duty – to vote and stand up for causes of righteousness and justice in the governmental arena.”

Sean Feucht, former Congressional candidate and current Bethel Church member and worship service leader, organized a controversial event during a pandemic beneath the Sundial Bridge in Redding Wednesday evening. Photo source: Sean Feucht’s website.

He may be a political loser, but he’s a winner when it comes to persuading his Christian brothers and sisters attend special events, as well as to to financially support his dreams. Case in point, according to one source, Feucht raised approximately $15,000 in donations to remodel his vintage ’70s Airstream, or as Feucht calls it, his “revival camper”.

According to a Wednesday afternoon post on Feucht’s Facebook page, he’d been in contact with Redding leaders who’d approved of the event:

“TONIGHT ITS REDDING’S TURN . Praying over tonight’s epic location next under the Sundial Bridge for the outdoor #LetUsWorship gathering.

I have been in talks with our mayor, city council & spiritual fathers of the city. We want to honor them by spreading out (there’s lots of room) and wearing masks if you are able. We will bring extras if you don’t have one!

Come ready to worship, come ready to pray, come ready to bless our city!

#LetUsWorship #Redding

Despite saying he wanted to “honor” Redding’s leaders by spreading out and maintaining social distancing at the “epic location”, the reality was there was not “lots of room” available. A crush of people spread over the grounds surrounding the Sundial Bridge like an army of hungry ants over a picnic lunch.

It blows my mind that if Feucht did, in fact, speak with the mayor and city council members, that all those people – let alone ONE person – would have approved this event, with or without a permit.

Feucht’s Facebook statement begs the question: Who are the city’s spiritual fathers, and what authority would they have to allow a religious event of this magnitude on public property?

Thousands of  North State believers, including those from Bethel Church, filled the space beneath the Sundial Bridge, overflowed onto the path, and up the hillsides. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Bethel Church’s official stance is that it did not sanction the Wednesday night Sundial Bridge event. However, that statement loses credibility in the face of a post on Beni Johnson’s Facebook page that promoted the event. Johnson is a Bethel leader, married to Bill Johnson, Bethel’s lead senior pastor.

People sang, jumped, danced, prayed and hugged. Three women wearing black tops and black shorts went into the river. “We did it!” one shouted. Some young women waved colorful cloths in time to the music. Everyone jockeyed to inch closer to the the center of the action, where Feucht spoke and led worship music, accompanied by Bethel Church musicians.

Evangelical Christians, including Bethel Church members, crowd around Sean Feucht, seen right of center. Photo by Steve DuBois.

After about 9 p.m.  Feucht and the musicians packed up their gear and left. A few hundred worshippers stayed behind to mingle and lay hands upon one another in prayer.

After the service, worshippers pray for a man.

Face masks were as rare on this Redding evening as mittens and snow parkas in July.

Face masks were a rarity at the event, although Sean Feucht announced at the onset of the evening that he had masks available for those who wanted any. It’s unknown whether anyone took him up on his offer. Photo source: Facebook video screen grab.

Feucht, best known in evangelical Christian circles for his Christian music albums, is a big deal with the Bethel crowd, especially after his run for Congress in the Third Congressional District, an area that includes Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties. Earlier this year, Feucht joined other evangelicals, including many from Bethel Church, for a photo op with President Trump at the White House.

Click here for a Feb. 6 story by reporter Annelise Pierce with more details: “Sean Feught for Congress and the New Religion of Politics.”

In this Facebook screen grab, Sean Feucht can be seen with his hand on President Trump’s forearm during a group photo of evangelical Christians taken in the Oval Office.

For a time, he was rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s top Republicans.

On Feucht’s Facebook page, as he spoke about the event that would soon happen, his friends and supporters from all over the world were euphoric and excited, especially when Feucht asked if he should live stream the event.

Yes! Please live stream!

And so, he did.

Posted by Sean Feucht on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

And as Feucht and his crew set up for the event, Feucht posted an image on his Facebook page to show that people were already arriving: “35 mins before we start and its filling out!!!!”

During set-up, before the crowds arrived in earnest. Photo source: Sean Feucht’s Facebook page.

“Awesome move of God!”

“Praise God!”

“Yes come on revival fire”

“I proclaim and decree Psalm 91 over the gatherings. And I declare, Immanuel (sic) as the war cry of these gatherings.”

“Come to West Virginia please. Let the Fire fall tonight..Hallelujah!”

However, there were some people who criticized Feucht for organizing an event that would bring so many people en masse to Redding in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

“You WILL be held personally responsible if there is a surge in Covid 19 cases in Shasta County based on your ridiculous “gathering” wrote one person.

“And, by the way, the City Council of Redding cannot speak for the citizens of the whole of Shasta County. You might want to prepare for lawsuits.”

“So much for masks & social distancing,” wrote another. “… guess they want Shasta County to shut down… wow…”

Some Redding residents heard about the upcoming event, and tried official channels to stop it. Patrick Archer of the  Facebook group, “Investigating Bethel Redding CA” posted a message on the group’s page that he said he’d emailed to Redding’s Police Chief, Bill Schueller.

As Archer mentioned, the Wednesday night in Redding was just one of many similar outdoor worship services being held across the country. Most recently was a well-attended Feucht-endorsed event in Huntington Beach that boasted thousands of believers in attendance.

Worshippers gathered recently on Huntington Beach. “THE CHURCH HAS LEFT THE BUILDING!” Photo source: Sean Feucht’s Facebook page.

Feucht claimed in his Facebook post that he had permission from Redding leaders, including the mayor and the city council, not to mention the city’s “spiritual fathers” – to proceed with the outdoor worship service at the Sundial Bridge in Redding.

Let Us Worship participants crowd around Sean Feucht and musicians beneath the Sundial Bridge. Photo by Steve DuBois.

This boggles the mind on so many levels. First, what power and influence does Sean Feucht have in Redding that he could have his reckless event approved?

Second, what rational city leader would think it’s prudent to allow a huge event that attracts thousands of people at any time during a pandemic, a time when the prevailing worldwide consensus is that large gatherings are known as places of possible virus transmission; to be avoided like the plague (or a deadly coronavirus)?

I’m not picking on Bethel Church or any of the other churches whose members attended this jam-packed event. I’m pointing out the absurdity of allowing a potential virus-spewing COVID-carrying train wreck of a mass gathering to happen in the center of Redding when California counties are struggling to stay off the governor’s watch list for further restrictions and closures.

It’s easy to see how this event could attract so many people, especially since Bethel Church, where Feucht is a member, has more than 11,000 members.  This event has been widely publicized on social media. Of course it would be popular. Of course it would be a mob scene.

I’m having deja vu all over again, because this Let Us Worship event reminds me a lot of the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, granted permission by our unbelievable Sheriff Eric Magrini. I was not the only one to wrongly predict that we’d see an immediate uptick in coronavirus cases after the event, a prediction that drew much ridicule and criticism by those who pointed out that we didn’t see a bunch of positive cases.

At least not right away.

Source Facebook.

Guess which area of Shasta County – statistically speaking – is currently one of the county’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots? Cottonwood and Anderson, according to a map released this week by Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency that shows a break down of regions with the highest number of cases per 100,000.

Guess which Shasta County Supervisor represents the greater Cottonwood/Anderson area? District 5’s Les Baugh, the same supervisor who’s also a pastor, who thumbed his nose at the COVID-prevention guidelines since Day 1, even pulling a haircut stunt with his militia-leading Cottonwood barber. Guess whose church had enough of a recent COVID-activity scare to put the brakes on in-person services? Baugh’s.

You just can’t make this shit up.

Generally speaking, religion aside, some of the rodeo folks and Bethel believers have a few things in common: their disdain for the governor’s executive COVID restrictions, and their overall disbelief in the dangers of the coronavirus.

As our president said, less COVID tests would result in less positive COVID cases. True enough.

As Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency head Donnell Ewert so wisely observed shortly after the rodeo, we may never know the extenuating fallout and ripple effect from the Cottonwood rodeo, because there may have been either no people there with the virus, or it’s possible there were asymptomatic people there, and it might take a while for the virus to play itself out through multiple people over several weeks and even months.

If there were asymptomatic people at the rodeo, they may have unwittingly shed the virus to others at the rodeo, perhaps people who were also asymptomatic, or had cases so mild they scarcely felt it. Maybe those people went about their merry way to their homes and to their jobs and to family gatherings and shopping trips. Those people may have passed the virus onto other people who passed it on and passed it on.

Over time, though, some of those potentially contagious rodeo folks could have eventually passed the virus on to people who did show symptoms, and were tested. Some may have ended up in the hospital. Perhaps some of the seven Shasta County people who’ve died from COVID-19 were from the Cottonwood/Anderson area. Because of HIPAA, only those people who knew the deceased will be privy to that information.

At the time, public health officials implored the rodeo crowd to self-quarantine to avoid potenially spreading a virus they may not have known they carried. And public health recommended the rodeo people get tested, too. Come on! The tests are free. It’s easy!

Nice try, but those requests most likely fell on deaf ears since many of the people who attended the rodeo were die-hard anti-maskers and COVID non-believers. Likewise, some are suspicious of the testing, and think it’s just a sneaky way for the government to collect our DNA and insert tracking devices in our bodies, for some nefarious reasons that I will never understand.

Many evangelical Christians share those beliefs, too.

Photographer Steve DuBois made it a point of counting how many people he saw wearing masks at the Bethel event. He counted six. One mask-wearer was a man from Sweden. Steve asked the man why he thought more people were not wearing masks.

Steve said that the man believed more of his fellow Christians weren’t wearing masks because the pandemic is “an evil”, and Jesus will kill the evil.

Steve said that the Swedish man added that if anyone from the worship event did contract the virus, he was confident there would be a “miracle healing through Jesus”.

So, there you go.

Here’s how I see this going down. Like the COVID-19 rodeo aftermath, we may not necessarily see an uptick in positive virus cases in the next few weeks. Anti-maskers and COVID non-believers are not inclined to self-quarantine. Nor are they inclined to be tested, either, unless they’re sick, or unless they become so gravely ill they seek medical care, or are hospitalized. “Giving in” to either quarantine or testing would show a lack of faith. It would mean admitting they lacked the faith for God to protect them from this evil virus.

As I reported about some fundamentalist churches during this pandemic, some Christians truly believe they’ll be protected from the virus by the blood of Jesus.

Or, perhaps there will be a dramatic rise in positive cases because of a few hours of a few thousand people converging upon the Sundial Bridge. Maybe a leap in positive COVID-19 cases will cause Shasta County to have even more restrictions, and cause even more businesses to go under, and yet more people to become sick and die.

Either way, time will tell.

But in the meantime, I’m angry. I’m angry that once again, our North State leaders didn’t take the virus seriously enough to just say no.

No, you may not hold a mass gathering with thousands of people crammed cheek to jowl. No!

I’m angry that if it’s true, as KRCR anchor Mike Mangas reported, that worship-service organizers assured public health officials that they’d spread out, encourage masks, and that their event would be a gathering too small to warrant a permit –  then somebody needs to pray for forgiveness. By some estimates about one tenth of Redding’s population is made up of Bethel Church members. The organizers had already held these massive church-outside revivals in other cities, with great success, and by success, I mean events with large turnouts. They knew that here in Redding, Bethel Church’s headquarters, any free event they’d hold outside would draw a multitude of believers, itching to get together after being apart for so long.

It certainly appears that the organizers were untruthful about their Redding Sundial Bridge projections. It appears they didn’t care. From my seat, it looks as if they wanted what they wanted, without any consideration about the potential life-and-death consequences to the rest of us.

I’m angry that once again, our community has been exposed to increased danger of infection because of thousands of potentially cluelessly contagious people who will now be walking, living and shopping among us, shedding their virus wherever they go.

I’m angry to think about the innocent people who will suffer and may even die because of this one event. Was this Let Us Worship really so important it had to happen, hell or high water, in the middle of a pandemic? Was this event really about about worshipping God? Did it have to include thousands of people? Couldn’t worship happen alone, or at home, or out in nature? Does God really care?

Most of all, I’m angry that this mass gathering was done under the guise of “blessing” our city.

If that’s their idea of a blessing, they can keep it.

God help Shasta County. We’re going to need it.

###

UPDATE: 

The headline and some parts of this column have been revised to accommodate the following corrections:

  • Feucht is not a former Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry student.
  • Beside Bethel Church members, other pastors, faith-based believers and Burn 24/7 members were invited to the “Let us Worship” event, though as of July 28, none have come forward, or have been specifically identified.

###

On Thursday, July 23 – Sean Feucht posted the following message on his Facebook page regarding the Wednesday gathering he organized at the Sundial Bridge in Redding.

By Sean Feucht:
“I want to thank every pastor who showed up to pray last night.
I want to thank our city leaders for honoring our rights to worship outdoors freely (according to state and CDC regulations).
I want to reiterate this was NOT IN ANY WAY put on or sponsored by Bethel Church. Many different church leaders from across the city were present and praying.
I want to reiterate we encouraged social distancing & told people to wear masks (we even brought extras if people needed them). We cannot force this on people.
I want to clarify that I shared our plans with city council (something we have never done before). They asked me to reach out to the local health department. We did that and we never received a response. I assumed that was sufficient and that we had the green light.
We tried our best to honor the city and navigate the proper channels. We spent more time doing this in Redding than any other city thus far.
We love Redding and we love the church in our city deeply.
See you soon Pasadena, Fresno, Bakersfield & San Diego.”

Some additional information and images have been included since the July 23 publication date. Some portions have been edited for clarification. 

Click here for the statement from Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency about the Wednesday night Sundial Bridge event. 

Click here for the statement from the City of Redding about the Wednesday night Sundial Bridge event.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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