Dedham Board of Health Orders Church Not To Hold Services – Even Though They’re Limited To 10

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A pastor in Dedham who plans to hold two church services this weekend that stay within the governor’s limit of 10 got a cease-and-desist letter from the town’s board of health.

Pastor Nick White announced earlier this week that he plans to hold the services at Victory Baptist Church in Dedham at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, May 10. They would be the church’s first in-person services since Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on March 23 limited most public gatherings to 10.

The church is requiring people to sign up on online in order to attend one of the services, with a limit of 10 people per service.

Pastor White told New Boston Post that he plans to take precautions to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including checking everyone’s temperature at the door, making sure everyone wears a mask and gloves, requiring everyone to stay at least six feet away from one another, and sanitizing the church between services. He said he also plans to provide masks and gloves for anyone who doesn’t have them.

“It’s time to finally have church again,” White said in a telephone interview. “It’s been about five weeks. We’ll reopen in stages, and this is our first stage of reopening. It’s going to continue.” 

On Sunday, May 3, White said, he notified Dedham Police Chief Michael D’entremont of his intentions. The Dedham Board of Health subsequently ordered him not to have the services.

The pastor said he’s going ahead anyway.

“We want to have a perfectly safe and clean place for people to come to with 10 people or less, and they still said because church is not listed as an essential business that we will not be able to gather,” White said. “I told them, ‘With all due respect, we appreciate what you do, but we weren’t asking for permission. We were calling to make you aware.’ ”

On Wednesday, May 6, the Dedham Board of Health sent Victory Baptist Church a cease-and-desist letter by email. The letter, which is not signed, bears the name of Leanne Jasset, the chairman of the town’s Board of Health.  It states in part:

WHEREAS, Victory Baptist Church is not a business providing essential services pursuant to Exhibit A of COVID-19 Order No. 13; and WHEREAS, on May 6, 2020 was observed advertising for services to be held on May 10, 2020 in violation of COVID-19 Order No. 13. WHEREBY, you are hereby ordered to immediately cease and desist from operating Victory Baptist Church until such time as the Governor rescinds COVID-19 Order No. 13.

While the letter refers to the Governor Baker’s executive order of March 23, it does not quote from it. The governor’s order states:  “Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited throughout the Commonwealth.” It lists 15 types of gatherings, including what it calls “faith-based.” But it does not prohibit gatherings of 10 or less.

The cease-and-desist letter puzzles White, since he thought by limiting the congregation to 10 people he would be staying within the confines of the governor’s order.

Attempts to reach the Dedham Board of Health on Wednesday, May 6 and Thursday, May 7 were unsuccessful. Dedham’s police chief also could not immediately be reached for comment.

Victory Baptist Church is what is referred to as a church plant. It is about a year-and-a-half old and receives some financial assistance from Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, whose pastor was recently fined by city authorities there for holding church services for more than 10 people.

As for potential consequences for holding services this Sunday, Pastor White tells New Boston Post he is not sure — because he believes he is not violating any rules.

“I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “We’re following every guideline. We’ll see what happens this Sunday.”


Pastor Nick White, right, with wife Chelsea and daughter Grace. Pastor White leads Victory Baptist Church in Dedham, Massachusetts. Courtesy photo.