CENTRAL, La. (BRPROUD) — More than 1,800 people came together for Sunday service at Life Tabernacle Church, disregarding an order by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to limit the number of people at public gatherings in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Life Tabernacle Church pastor Tony Spell told BRPROUD that the church is a staple in the community and cannot afford to close. “When the paramedics can’t get there, when the law enforcement can’t get there, the holy ghost can get there and it will make a difference in someone’s life,” said Spell. 

Twenty-six buses were utilized for Sunday service on March 22. The vehicles provided transportation for people living across five parishes. 

In text messages, Spell told BRPROUD that 1,825 people were in attendance and seven buildings across the church’s campus were utilized. 

Parishioners could be seen congregating in large groups, touching one another while in close contact. Only a few could be seen wearing masks or gloves. At the time of the service, Edwards had limited people to gathering in groups of no more than 50 while in public. Hours later, Edwards announced a “stay-at-home” order limiting the number of public gatherings to 10 people or less. 

“I would urge that faith leader, and all others to heed this directive and not unnecessarily engage in mass gatherings where this coronavirus can spread,” Edwards said.

Spell told BRPROUD that he believes covid-19 can be cured through “the healing hand of Jesus.” When asked what would happen should one of his parishioners test positive for the coronavirus, Spell referred to a passage from the Bible. “If that is our command, they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”

Pastors must act as first responders, according to Spell. “I’m going to address that by laying hands on them and praying for them and depending on God to heal their body,” Spell said.