‘Know Jesus, No Mask’: How a Charismatic Worship Leader Bamboozled His Way to the Sundial Bridge

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Yesterday was the one-week anniversary of Bethel-Church member Sean Feucht’s controversial worship concert at the Sundial Bridge in Redding. Once again, incredulous outsiders are left to wonder what’s in Shasta County’s water to cause our residents to behave so recklessly in the face of the deadly novel coronavirus.

First came the May 10 Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo that got the A-OK giddy up by unbelievable Sheriff Eric Magrini, the county’s top gun with the oxymoron of a law-enforcement title, because he refuses to enforce pandemic-related public health orders.

That rural rodeo dust-up had nearly faded to a faint blur of a memory in our trusty pickup’s rear-view mirror. Then along came last week’s faith-based ruckus at the Sundial Bridge in Redding, a mass-gathering spectacle that made the Cottonwood shindig look as tame as as a Rodeo Week Kiddie Parade.

At the Sundial Bridge in Redding, thousands of fundamentalist Christians crammed, jammed and sang together in defiance of public health orders that especially ban large gatherings during the pandemic. Social distancing was nonexistent by participants at the Sundial Bridge, and the number of people spotted wearing masks could be counted on two hands.

Thousands of Evangelical believers crowded beneath the Sundial Bridge in Redding the evening of July 22 to participate in Sean Feucht’s “Let Us Worship” event. Photo by Mike Mangas, KRCR TV.

While the amphitheater was officially ground zero for Feucht’s “Let Us Worship” gala, that area quickly proved too small for the jam-packed, fabric-waving, hand-raising celebrants who shouted — JESUS! — as they danced and swayed to the amplified Christian worship music that could be heard for miles around.

The overflow crowd of enthusiastic believers spilled out onto the winding path from the bridge’s upper level to the covered area beneath the bridge. Some people scrambled over the Sundial Bridge’s adjacent landscaped grassy knoll. Other revelers viewed the scene from above, at the bridge railings. Braver souls ventured to the Sacramento River’s edge. Some even waded into the frigid water, surely a relief during Redding’s typical hot summer night.

A mob of believers crowds the pathway for a glimpse of the area where Sean Feucht spoke and musicians performed. Photo by Steve DuBois.

In the days following the event, once again, news stories and videos gave the world a glimpse of the second time within two months when the North State was ridiculed for openly defying public health guidelines during a pandemic.

Of course, there were plenty of people in Feucht’s camp hailing him for his bravery as a hero, cheering him on, praising him as a modern-day martyr for his willful disobedience of governor’s orders, in the name of Jesus.

While many Reddingites may have felt shocked and outraged at what they viewed as “Let Us Worship” organizers’ reckless and irresponsible actions during a public-health crisis, there’s some consolation in knowing that Redding is not the only city to experience Feucht’s faith-based mob scene.

From sea to shining sea Feucht and friends continue to soldier onward, leaving a trail of stunned communities and irate health departments in their worshipful wake. These specially chosen cities and their residents are unwitting victims of Feucht’s coast-to-coast combo Jesus movement/government protest tour that could potentially shed and spread deadly virus particles person to person, county to county, state to state.

However, one distinction that does set Redding apart is the fact that it’s Bethel Church’s home-town headquarters. Bethel Church is the evangelical/charismatic-based mega church attended by 11,000 believers, including Feucht and his family, where Feucht volunteers as a musician and worship leader.

Feucht, the man with a mission

Sean Feucht,  organizer of a series of “Let Us Worship” services, one of which took place beneath the Sundial Bridge in Redding. Photo source: seanfeucht.com.

Feucht (pronounced “FOYT” rhymes with exploit) describes himself as a California, USA “husband, father, recording artist, author founder of 3 non-profits, 2 businesses, former congressional candidate.”

His non-profits include Burn 24/7, Light a Candle, and Hold the Line, the latter of which is defined by Feucht as “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.”

His popularity among Christian conservatives is on the rise. In fact, he’ll make a guest appearance this morning on Fox & Friends, something that had Feucht stoked on Facebook.

However, most recently, as Feucht wracks up one gargantuan crowd after another in the middle of a deadly pandemic, he’s been given a less glowing name by one blogger: Plague rat.

Feucht did not respond to my request for comment.

Why the “epic” choice of Redding’s Sundial Bridge?

Spend some time on Feucht’s Facebook page and you’ll see a theme: Feucht paints himself as a godly man with a mission to bring Christians together in a ’60s era-style Jesus Movement at a time when the pandemic has “threatened” Christians’ right to worship. Hence, “Let Us Worship“. It’s a glorious David-and-Goliath fable where Feucht plays the part of the rockin’ righteous David, and he’s fighting the Goliath government for the simple right to just worship Jesus.

On July 5, he posted a message on his Facebook page that hinted at something illicit.

July 5, “WE GOT SOME EPIC SECRETIVE WORSHIP STUFF PLANNED SOON … LIKE THIS WEEK”.

The morning of July 22, Feucht posted a photo of himself and his children, with a message of anticipation about that night’s plan. He said it was “Redding’s turn” and that he’d been in talks with Redding’s mayor, the city council and the city’s spiritual leaders.

To date, not one of the people from whom Feucht claims to have received permission for his plan have corroborated Feucht’s story.

“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!”

I submit that that message was directed at the city and Turtle Bay; seemingly innocent preemptive words to assure Sundial Bridge handlers that everything was cool. Nothing to fear. There’d be plenty of room for social distancing, and they’d have masks available. So disingenuous. It’s like saying you’ll provide condoms to people who’ve already said they don’t believe in birth control. But we’ll have them here if you need them. Wink, wink.

Feucht had to have known the massive size of the crowd who’d show up at the Sundial Bridge. He belongs to the 11,000-member Bethel Church. He’d recently hosted a “Let Us Worship” event in Huntington Beach in Southern California attended by thousands of believers.

Feucht’s Huntington Beach worship festival. Photo source: Facebook

He was well aware of the vast number of people who’d seen and shared his Facebook posts.

Finally, he was also aware of efforts by Kirsten Steele, his “Burn 24-7” helper, who’d acted as the liaison between his event, Turtle Bay and the city. She was also the one who emailed an invitation to the July 22 gig to more than 40 North State “Burn 24-7” members, whose identities ranged from Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry students and pastors to “Burn 24-7” organizers.

Here’s Steele’s group email:

HEY BURN FAM!!!!

It’s felt like AGES since we’ve all been able to be TOGETHER! We wanted to personally invite you along with friends, family and churches from across Redding this Wednesday, 7/22 @ 7:30pm as we worship OUTSIDE under the Sundial Bridge! We are so excited to gather in unified worship in the craziness of this season! HE IS STILL WORTHY!

So excited to worship with the founder of Burn 24-7, Sean Feucht, and we’re expectant to see people set free as we simply worship our King Jesus!

There will be lots of space to spread out and social distance, and please feel free to wear a mask! Please share this graphic with your friends and your church!

SEE YOU WEDNESDAY!

Where have all the churches gone?

One of the points of contention that Bethel Church’s communication director Aaron Tesauro contacted me about was his disappointment that the original version of my “Bethel Under the Bridge” article only mentioned Bethel Church, and no other churches who he said participated in the Sundial Bridge event. Although Tesauro said he did not attend the event, he said he knew there were other pastors and church members who represented a number of Redding-area churches and faith-based organizations besides Bethel who showed up at the Sundial Bridge amphitheater.

So puzzling. One might assume that if any group were inclined to bravely defend a brother or sister in Christ, it would be fellow pastors. So far, crickets. Maybe I’ve missed it, but nowhere have I heard of a single church representative to stand in solidarity with Bethel. Right now, Bethel Church is the big cheese that stands alone.

With Tesauro’s question in mind, I emailed every recipient who’d received Steele’s HEY BURN FAM!!!! email. I submitted identical questions to those 42 recipients,  including Steele and her husband, a fellow Burn 24-7 member and BSSM student. (As known Bethel members, I did submit a few additional Bethel-related questions especially for the Steeles.)

Please provide your name, your title and your church affiliation.

Q: Did any of your senior staff attend the “Let Us Worship” event? If so, how many and who?

Q: Did any of your church members attend? If so, approximately how many?

Q: If you did attend, what was your comfort level about there being no social distancing? Did you wear a mask? If so, why? If not, why not?

Q: What would you like the public to know about the “Let Us Worship” event?

Q: Do you worry that there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases because of the “Let Us Worship” event? If not, why not?

Q: What were your feelings about having Bethel Church take the brunt of the blame for this event?

I’d share a sample of responses, except I received none. Not one. Oh, I take that back. I did receive a reply from Kirsten Steele’s husband Andrew Steele, who asked how I got a hold of that email. I said it was a small town, that the email had many recipients, and people talk.

A good reporter never shares her sources.

Then he asked for my phone number. I said he’d find it at the bottom of my email, but I wasn’t interested in talking on the phone, because I’d feel more comfortable keeping my questions and his answers on the record, thus avoiding misunderstandings about what was or was not said.

I never heard from the Steeles again.

So here we are more than one week after the event, and other church members who attended the event aren’t admitting it. They’re letting Bethel take the heat.

I can share some – not all – churches and faith-based organizations affiliated with the Burn 24-7 email list. Bear in mind that Feucht’s goal for the “Burn 24-7” organization was to bring together in fellowship a variety of churches and believers. So at its core, the concept was a good one. Also bear in mind that being an email recipient does not necessarily mean that their members accepted Steele’s invitation to attend Feucht’s event.

Prefaces aside, an incomplete list of the faith-based  organizations to receive Steele’s “Burn 24-7” email includes: Bethel Church, Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, Tribal Praise Ministries, Berean Bible Church, Youth With a Mission, The Stirring, Valley Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church, Little County Church, Risen King Church and Living Truth Church.

What’s Feucht really fighting for?

When Feuchtt takes to Facebook to describe his huge gatherings, he makes it sound as if by breaking the law and defying the governor’s executive orders, he’s performing a righteous act of moral defiance in the name of religious freedom. Where’s the fight? Where’s the creativity? Public health officials have said that gatherings outdoors – with lots of physical distancing – are OK.

Feucht’s presented a false fight by setting up events in areas where communities and health departments will criticize Feucht and his followers. If his heart’s desire was truly to, as he says – “take the church outside” – then there were countless other location options here in our sprawling Shasta County that could have accommodated thousands of people. Likewise, he could have easily chosen a space where participants could have been free to sing, dance and worship, all at a CDC-approved safe distance from one another.

But no. He choose the beautiful, understated amphitheater beneath the iconic Sundial Bridge — Redding’s crown jewel —  as the place to lure thousands of church-starved worshippers for a few hours of awesomeness. The only other place in Redding that would have been worse would have been the Cascade Theatre, but of course, it’s closed. So outdoors was his only option. And he chose the most famous, visible, and dare I say beloved place in the entire city, the Sundial Bridge.

And when it was all over but the shoutin’, his team quickly produced a slick video, complete with a sound track and drone footage.

#LETUSWORSHIP – Redding, CA

Posted by Sean Feucht on Thursday, July 23, 2020

By attracting thousands of people to the Bridge — perhaps for his own ego, or to test how how much he could get away with — he put the health and safety of scores of  men, women and children at risk during a pandemic. He did so without exhibiting a single shred of remorse or a moment’s reflection about the dire, irreversible life-and-death circumstances his actions may have set into motion.

Rather, in fact, he was emboldened and justified enough to submit a response the next day to “NorCal press” after suffering some media criticism.

My statement to the NorCal press on last night’s event:

“Government leaders voiced support for outdoor protests in recent months, they should not be condeming Christians seeking to gather in worship. Masks were made available, social distancing was encouraged, and the gathering was held outside as an extra precaution. The freedom to worship God is the constitutional right of every American citizen and those who exercise this right should not be unfairly targeted for criticism.”

Note the 577 comments and 351 shares, which you can bet have grown exponentially since a week ago.

Note the victimhood. Note his claim that he’s being condemned for seeking to gather in worship.

What a load of sanctimonious baloney.

Who to blame?

Last week, I was angry. I blamed city leaders for not stopping the event. Today, knowing what I know now, I don’t blame the city, or Turtle Bay for allowing the event to happen at the Sundial Bridge. I don’t blame them because they were duped. They fell for Feucht — the charismatic flim flam man, the baby-faced guy with the long blond hair — the kind of guy whose grandiosity  inspired him to grasp the president’s arm during an Oval Office photo op.

Bethel Church wasn’t alone in its condemnation of Feucht. The City of Redding issued an official statement of explanation and criticism, as did Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency. Even Julie Winter, Redding City Council member and Bethel Church elder, weighed in with a public scolding of Feucht on Facebook.

Dear Doni, thank you for your support. I did not attend this event. We all need to do our part to protect our community, which means socially distancing and wearing a face covering. My post below outlines the facts and I have no other comments.

An outdoor worship event was held at the Sundial Bridge last night and the organizer publicly stated that I gave the green light for the event. I want to clearly state that is untrue. I did not greenlight the event, nor do I (or anyone on the council) have the authority to do so. I found out about the event the day prior and contacted the organizer to express my concerns. I know people have the right to worship and I would typically be very supportive of such an event. However, these are unique and difficult times for our businesses. I expressed my concerns to the organizer about attendees willingness to socially distance and wear masks during this heat. I advised him to reach out to County Public Health to get approval or consider rescheduling the event. Unfortunately, it appears that people did not wear masks or socially distance. We all have a duty to keep our businesses open, so please wear a mask, socially distance, and avoid large gatherings. Let’s all work together to keep our businesses open. Julie

Winter’s statement was especially interesting as Feucht publicly thanked Winter – in both text and in person during the event –  for “greenlighting” the gargantuan gathering. Winter denies any such thing.

After the event, Feught published his own statement, which in part he sweet-talked Bethel Church, and let his home church off the hook. But Feucht also doubled down on his claim – substantiated thus far by no one – that he went through the proper channels to hold his event, and it was permitted by “city leaders”.

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.”

Feucht’s religious-freedom fest attracted thousands of Feught’s fans and brothers and sisters in the Lord who flocked to the the city’s Sundial Bridge property. Advance word about the event spread quickly via social media posts shared by Feucht, who has 94,554 Facebook followers. Eventually, Feucht’s post reached arguably one of Feucht’s most influential friends of all, Beni Johnson, a senior Bethel pastor, married to lead pastor Bill Johnson.

On July 16 when Beni Johnson – who has 4,168 friends – posted Feucht’s post, it received 64 shares, and a combined 322 hearts and thumbs up.

Let’s say an average Facebook user has 338 friends. Ostensibly, Beni Johnson’s 64 friends who shared her Feucht post could have reached 21,632 of their friends’ friends, and so on and so on.

Within the international charismatic/evangelical realm, the supremely powerful, popular and wealthy Bethel Church is considered a global spiritual sensation that’s drawn tens of thousands of people over the last decade to Redding for the opportunity to be part of the church and its teachings. Bethel Church is especially famous for such programs as the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM), and its multi-million-dollar Bethel Music ministry. Within global Christian circles, Bill and Beni Johnson are jet-setting Christian celebrities who speak and teach the world over about the gospel of miracles, and signs and wonders, wrapped up neatly in the slogan, “On earth as it is in heaven.”

Senior Bethel Church leaders Bill and Beni Johnson. Photo: bethel.com

So on July 16, when Beni Johnson promoted Feucht’s upcoming event on her page, the social media floodgates opened and Feucht’s brainchild took on a life of its own.

Thousands of “Let Us Worship” attendees converged upon the Sundial Bridge in Redding July 22. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Meanwhile, by July 21, just one day before Feucht’s event, the Facebook post had come to the attention of representatives with the city of Redding and Turtle Bay Museum.

Seth McGaha, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for Turtle Bay Museum and Exploration Park, was emphatic about the part the park played in allowing Feucht’s event.

“No, ‘Let Us Worship’ and ‘Burn 24-7’ did not seek permission from Turtle Bay to hold its event in the Sundial Bridge amphitheater,” McGaha said.

McGaha said Turtle Bay staff learned of the event via social media, and reached out to the “Let Us Pray” organizer/BSSM student Kirsten Steele, whose email was listed on the Facebook post. Steele replied, and assured Turtle Bay staff that there would be no vendors, and the group would have a small battery-powered amplified for the microphones and acoustical instruments.

The email Turtle Bay received put the museum staff’s minds at ease:

“The setup will be very raw and minimal,”emailed Feucht’s helper. “We chose the amphitheater because it’s off the river trail and should accommodate how many we think may come.”

The resulting crush of people was anything but minimal.

How many people could safely gather inside the Sundial Bridge’s amphitheater?

A word about how many people, here in the era of COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, could safely fit within the Sundial Bridge’s amphitheater area. Considering the CDC recommendation that people stay six feet apart, Food for Thought/A News Cafe created a graphic to illustrate the number of individuals who could fit safely within the amphitheater.

The result: About 200 people, taking into consider the addition of little people and families.

Approximately ten times that number showed up.

Although my previous story quoted a security guard who guesstimated the crowd to be about 5,000, one ANC science-minded contributor did a careful review of  photographs, videos and drone footage and determined that the actual number of people who showed up at the Sundial Bridge last Wednesday was a minimum of 1,800. If one also counts the number of people over the course of the evening who flanked the bridge, and the numbers who were on the hillside near the shoreline, and up above, watching from the bridge deck, the number easily exceeds 2,000 people.

How did this happen?

Last week, I expressed anger that Feucht’s event was allowed to happen. I felt angry because not only did the event draw scores of local people en masse, and put them at risk, but it also attracted many people from outside the area, increasing the likelihood of contamination from other areas with higher infection rates. I felt angry that our community was put at risk by so many people who gathered without consideration about social distancing, where few masks were in sight. I felt angry because I knew that generally speaking, many of the attending believers are of the mindset that they’re impervious to the virus, even mocking it, bragging about their “know Jesus, no mask” mentality.

In a video clip that showed the onset of the July 22 event — after Julie Winter was thanked — one of the male speakers can be heard telling the crowd that members of the ministry team would be up front, available to pray for any needs, including for the virus.

“And if you have the COVID, we can break that off you, too,” he said, a line followed by enthusiastic applause, laughter and hallelujahs.

Radioactive Feught

Feucht’s Bethel Church connections now seem a source of consternation and possible heartburn for Bethel’s public relations department, illustrated by the distance Bethel put between itself and Feucht following his Sundial Bridge event. Bethel’s disapproval of Feucht was most recently apparent by the Bethel Church press release posted the day after Feucht and his organizers came under fire for their bait-and-switch gathering of the fundamentalist masses at the iconic Sundial Bridge.

Aaron Tesauro, Bethel Church Communications Director, offered additional clarification, in addition to his official  press release.

“Myself, as well as a majority of the Bethel leadership team, share many of the same concerns you laid out in your opinion piece about the Sean Feucht worship night this past week. These concerns were shared with Sean when it came to our attention that he was planning one of his worship nights in Redding. To be clear, this event was hosted and financially supported by Sean himself, and was not hosted or sponsored by Bethel Church or Bethel Music.

Would you be able to incorporate relevant parts of our public statement from Bethel Leadership into your piece to share with the community as well as link to it? Here is the link.

I do realize some individuals from Bethel (including Beni Johnson) shared Sean’s event graphic on their personal social media, but this event was not promoted or endorsed by Bethel Church, and was not shared any official church communication channels or social media, as it was not an event that the church would have organized. In our continued effort to promote public health of our local region, we have not held public weekend church services at Bethel and do not have plans for when services will resume in light of current public health guidelines.”

Tesauro is in the unenviable position of walking the precarious tightrope between Bethel Church damage control – while simultaneously not completely forsaking fellow Bethel member Feucht by throwing him under the big white church bus.

The thing is, try as Tesauro might to walk that delicate line, Bethel Church now faces a losing battle. Unless Bethel publicly banishes Feucht as a liability to the church’s reputation, the sincerity of Bethel’s message will be doubted. For Bethel Church to escape this nightmare unscathed, it must do more than trot out the old-time-religion’s love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin line. The stakes are too high. If people end up sick or dying because of Feucht’s arrogance and unrepentant actions when he arranged for thousands of people to squish into an area better suited for hundreds, his sins will be unforgivable.

And as understandable as it would be for Bethel Church to feign amnesia when it comes to knowing Feucht, the fact is that much of who Feucht is, and how quickly he’s risen in power, is a direct byproduct of his time and training at Bethel Church, where he’s a worship leader and church member. When he ran for a Congressional seat, Bethel leaders Bill Johnson, Kris Valloton and Andre Van Mol all donated money to Feucht’s campaign. And when it came time to promote Feucht’s Redding event under the Sundial Bridge, Bethel leader Beni Johnson gave her seal of approval by posting it on her Facebook page. And when Feucht contributed to a book about integrity, the book’s forward was written by Bill Johnson.

Otherwise, there are barely any connections at all.

Finally, while Bethel Church is quick to absolve itself from any involvement in Feucht’s highly criticized worship gala for the multitudes, at least one person near the band wore a black shirt printed with the words, “Bethel Music.” And after the event, as musicians packed up their equipment, a man approached the musicians and asked if they were from Bethel Music, to which one musician replied, “Yes.”

My point? Bethel played a bigger part in Feucht’s production than the church cares to admit.

A cautionary tale

Like many people, I wanted to know how city leaders and our public health department could have “allowed” an event this big and this risky in the middle of a pandemic. You can bet this bait-and-switch scheme was a source of embarrassment by city staff, seasoned professionals who don’t suffer fools lightly.

“I was very disappointed that people would attend an event like this with COVID restrictions in our community, said Kim Niemer, the city’s director of community services.” … no one wants that.”

Even so, Niemer’s take-away is a practical one.

“Public assembly is a complicated issue for public agencies, especially at this time,” she said.

Duped

Mike Warren, Turtle Bay’s CEO (and former Redding City Manager) explained that the first that Turtle Bay learned of the upcoming worship event under the bridge was after being contacted by Kim Niemer, Redding’s Director of Community Services, who’d learned about the event on social media.

Warren described how the process works during normal times, for those who wish to hold any event that would force the closure of the area to the public. As it turned out, Feucht’s event did end up blocking general public access, as the numbers of people in attendance exploded, monopolizing the entire Sundial Bridge area, effectively shutting out everyone except the worshippers.

According to Warren, the Sundial Bridge is owned by the city of Redding, and the Bridge is a thoroughfare that’s free and open to the public. However, permits are required for special circumstances.

“In general, our campus can be used by the public,” Warren said. “But for special events such as weddings or other large events, you do need a permit.”

Here’s the Catch-22: Even if Feucht had been forthcoming, and even if he and the organizers had disclosed the true nature of their intentions for a mass gathering, no permit would have been granted, even if he’d gone through proper channels and applied. Why? Because, as Turtle Bay’s McGaha pointed out, because of the pandemic, all facility rentals, public events and large gatherings have been postponed on Turtle Bay’s 300-acre campus since March 19.

“Turtle Bay did not sponsor or grant permission to the event organizer to use the Sundial Bridge amphitheater for the scale and scope of this event,” McGaha said. “Had Turtle Bay been given accurate information prior to the event, we would have communicated with the event organizer that their event is not permitted under the current circumstances without a facility rental from Turtle Bay, or permit from the city of Redding.”

McGaha reiterated, like Warren, that although the Sundial Bridge amphitheater area is open and free to the general public, there are procedures and fees required for special events, including a facility rental application, a permit, and signed agreement, all of which would have cost a minimum of $900.

When would a facility rental application and permit have been necessary at the Sundial Bridge?

“Whenever space is used for an event that would interfere or conflict with another activity, or general use of the public,” McGaha said.

Look at this photo. You tell me: Was there any available room for the general public to enjoy the amphitheater at the Sundial Bridge that night?

Bethel members and other believers crowd around Sean Feucht, seen in the center of the photo. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Clearly, no.

And, of course, when McGaha speaks of permits and rental agreements and applications, he’s referring to times prior to March-19, before the novel coronavirus, before CDC health guidelines, before state watch lists and shutdowns.

The City of Redding

Niemer said the event first appeared on her radar on July 21, when she saw Feucht’s Facebook promotion for the event just one day before it was supposed to happen.

She contacted Melissa Maney, Turtle Bay’s guest services manager. She also let Redding’s City Manager know about the event, and that she was looking into it.

At 5:27 p.m. on July 21, the night before Feucht’s event, Maney emailed Niemer with an update that contained the subject line: Urgent: Tomorrow Night’s Event.

Maney told Niemer that she’d been in communication with “Let Us Worship” contact person, Kirsten Steele of Feucht’s “Burn 24-7” group. Maney shared with Niemer the July 21, 4:16 p.m. email she’d sent to Steele.

Hi Kirsten,

This is Melissa with Turtle Bay.  Kim Niemer from the City of Redding asked me if we knew about the worship event that you all have arranged to take place on the Sundial Bridge and Sac River Trail, and we here at Turtle Bay didn’t know anything about it.

The bridge and trails are public property, so people are certainly allowed to be there and worship, and for the most part do as they wish. I just wanted to try and reach out to someone and make sure that this wasn’t including things like vendors or a large stage/equipment. For those kinds of events you would need to clear it with the city and with us, and Kim and I would hate for anyone’s hard work (and fun) to be ruined by finding out that some part of it couldn’t happen the night of!

Please let me know what’s being planned so that I can let our facilities manager and our security guards know what to expect, and to make sure all is well. I would greatly appreciate the heads up! Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful evening!

Melissa Maney
Guest Services Manager

At 5:02 on July 21, Kirsten Steele, Feucht’s fellow “Burn 24-7” member, responded to Maney’s message.

Hey Melissa!

Thank you so much for reaching out and wanting to clarify! We aren’t sure how many will come but we just wanted to gather outside where we can socially distance and worship, pray and bless the city. There will be no vendors and we have a small battery powered amplification for acoustic guitar and mic. The setup will be very raw and minimal. We chose the amphitheater because it’s off the river trail and should accommodate how many we think may come.

We’ve been doing a couple nights just like this across California! They have been amazing and really blessed the cities.

Let us know if you have any other questions!

The final email correspondence was the 5:27 message from Maney to Niemer that said the event looked pretty simple.

“We get folks with those small amplifiers & acoustic guitars all the time,” Maney wrote. “So it shouldn’t be something out of the ordinary.”

She concluded by saying she’d let Turtle Bay staff know to expect to see some people worshipping under the bridge, “so it’s not a surprise and they’ll keep an eye on things.”

Bluffed and bamboozled

I am now convinced that Redding city staff and public health officials alike were bamboozled by Feucht and friends. I believe that city representatives and Turtle Bay staff took the word of faith-based organizers as gospel, especially after reading descriptions of a modest event with a few musicians; just some folks praying and worshiping beneath the bridge.

The deception was made more plausible because the words were delivered by religious people, generally assumed to hold truth in high regard. Plus, the information about the event didn’t reach the city and Turtle Bay staff until one day before the event. The arrangement was finalized between Turtle Bay staff, the city and Steele after the official close of business hours, the evening before the event.

If you doubt my theory, if you think the city staff and Turtle Bay representatives looked the other way and allowed thousands to flood the Sundial Bridge, let me ask you this: Why in the world would the city and Turtle Bay condone a potential public relations train wreck of an event during a pandemic that would only bring community outrage and criticism upon them?

They wouldn’t. Nobody would.

Waiting to exhale

Meanwhile, Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency workers have one eye on the calendar and another on COVID case numbers. They urge anyone who attended the “Let Us Worship” event to self-quarantine for 14 days, and to get tested.

They can hope for a miracle, that the July 22 Sundial Bridge event won’t result in an uptick of positive COVID-19 cases.

As for Feucht, with his youthful vigor and boundless energy, he’s seemingly unstoppable. According to his Facebook page, he’s got a full calendar that will take him across the country until September. His schedule starts tomorrow in Siloam Springs, Ark., followed by Aug. 1 in Tulsa, Okla.; Aug. 2 in San Marcos, Texas; Aug. 8 in Portland, Ore.; Aug. 9 in Seattle Wash.; Aug. 21 in San Diego; Aug. 23 in Los Angeles; Aug. 29 in New York City; Aug. 30 in Boston, Mass.; and finally, Sept. 6 at the Capitol building in Sacramento.

Behold, the charismatic plague rat, spreading the gospel of Jesus, with the danger of coronavirus, wherever he goes.

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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