Pastor who led mask-optional church service now in ICU with COVID-19

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho — Since the first weekend in May, Candlelight Christian Fellowship has been welcoming worshipers online and in-person to the Coeur d’Alene church building. In a video last April, Pastor Paul Van Noy encouraged people to social distance at church and wash their hands. He also addressed masks.

“If you are comfortable wearing a face mask, we want you to feel comfortable wearing a face mask,” Van Noy said. “If you do not feel comfortable wearing a face mask, you certainly do not have to.”

At the time of the Facebook live video, masks were not required in public spaces in Idaho. Now, there is a mask mandate in Kootenai County that requires people to wear a face covering indoors if they can’t social distance. According to Coeur d’ Alene City Councilwoman Kikki Miller, churches are not exempt from the rule.

Still, Candlelight Christian Fellowship is not requiring people to wear masks if they attend in-person services, according to body ministry coordinator Eric Reade.

“We want people to feel comfortable coming in to worship in a place of worship because we know that it’s a First Amendment right for people to be able to gather and worship,” Reade said.

But now, some people are criticizing the church for its choice.

Reade said that recently, Pastor Van Noy, his wife and at least one other staff member contracted COVID-19. The pastor was admitted to the ICU, where he is still receiving treatment.

“Paul is still recovering very slowly, but he is improving,” Reade said.

Reade explained that Pastor Van Noy chose not to attend the Sunday services on August 30 because he wasn’t feeling well. Shortly after that, he found out he had COVID-19. Once staff knew about the positive result, Reade said they shut down the building and hired professional cleaners. The church has since reopened for in-person services.

“We feel like we have done everything we possibly can do to minimize the opportunity or chance for a person to contract the virus,” Reade said. “But, we also want to support people’s constitutional right to worship and have a worship place.”

Reade said the church will continue giving people the option of whether to wear a mask during services.

The CDC has encouraged people to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding large gatherings and wearing a face covering indoors when social distancing is not possible.

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