Women walk from the parking lot Sunday morning to the main entrance of Kingdom Life Church in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

OAKLAND — Oakland police were conferring Monday with state officials to determine whether action should be taken in response to large gatherings over the weekend inside the Kingdom Life Church, as the town manager worried each gathering has “the potential to be a superspreader” of COVID-19.

Deputy Chief Rick Stubbert of the Oakland Police Department said in a statement Monday afternoon authorities had spoken with the church’s senior pastor, Jamie Dickson, who was cooperating and “indicated that this event grew larger than what he had planned.”

Current rules under the state’s “Phase 2” protocols limit gatherings to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Pastor Dickson expressed a desire to work with the Oakland Police Department in the future to keep his congregation and the community safe,” Stubbert said.

A crowd packed the High Street church Saturday night for “Worship Night,” featuring Sean Feucht, 37, a Christian worship leader and singer from Redding, California, who has been traveling the country, preaching and protesting government restrictions on religious gatherings during the pandemic.

Oakland Town Manager Gary Bowman said Monday in a telephone interview he is concerned about the weekend church gatherings, which could spread the coronavirus.

“Obviously, this has the potential of being a superspreader, so we’re trying to figure out exactly what to do and how to move forward,” Bowman said.

The Police Department is handling the matter, he said, and officials have talked with Michael Sauschuck, commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, and officials at the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention about the church gatherings, which were held Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday morning.

“We don’t want to see something happen like in Millinocket,” Bowman said, referring to a wedding reception Aug. 7 that spread the virus to other areas of the state, fueling a surge of cases in York County and leading to the deaths of several who did not attend the event.

Bowman said this is the first issue he has had with Dickson, who told police he did not expect so many people at the church and that attendance “spiraled out of control.”

“I’ve worked with Jamie Dickson for the last few years and this is the first time anything like this has happened,” Bowman said. “This is a first, and I wish it hadn’t happened. It did happen and we’re trying to prevent it from happening again. If somebody gets sick, it’s going to change the equation. We just hope that we don’t see that.”

The church recently announced plans to cancel its 2020 Tenacious Love indoor conference that had been planned for this past weekend, citing an abundance of caution related to crowd sizes at indoor events.

The church wrote in a Facebook post it was canceling the conference “due to ongoing state regulations and safety concerns,” and “ticket holders have been emailed, notified, and refunded.” But the church announced prior to the weekend that “Worship Night” would be held there instead, and it would be livestreamed while also welcoming an in-person audience.

“There will be an overflow room downstairs and seats available in the balcony and sanctuary,” a church announcement read.

It also read, “Please avoid posting this online as you want to be very sensitive to COVID policies and general community concern for larger gatherings.”

Feucht, the California singer-pastor, told the Oakland audience Saturday night he had traveled to 33 cities across the United States recently, holding outdoor concerts and worship events.

“This is my first time leading worship in a church in probably four to five months,” Feucht said during the livestream.

Vehicles fill the parking lot Saturday night at Kingdom Life Church in Oakland, after police received reports the church was violating rules for gathering size during the coronavirus pandemic. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

At 6:57 p.m. Saturday, a caller reported to police the church at 191 High St. was violating an emergency ordinance. Police said they responded and monitored the situation.

Police also responded to the church Friday night, after a caller, who asked to remain anonymous, reported being concerned about the church’s violating Maine CDC guidelines for gathering sizes during the pandemic.

“We responded (Friday night),” Stubbert said Saturday. “We observed and saw the parking lot was full of cars. We obviously couldn’t take any enforcement action and we didn’t take any enforcement action. We just observed.”

Stubbert said police were aware before the weekend event that it was planned for Friday and Saturday, and they spoke with church officials about the need to follow guidelines.

“They assured us they would,” he said.

It is unclear how many people attended the event. Stubbert said the parking lot of the church appeared to be full Friday and Saturday, and there were “a lot of out-of-state plates coming and going.”

Jamie Dickson, senior pastor at Kingdom Life Church in Oakland, speaks in a video posted online. Facebook screenshot

Contacted Sunday for comment, Dickson said in a Facebook message he was not sure how many people attended the weekend events. He said the church sent a plan to local officials and informed police about what they planned to do to ensure the safety of participants.

“We have been in great dialogue for weeks with them,” Dickson said. “We set up three locations throughout the church that could leave room for social distancing and we streamed the service to them.

“Every person that came was offered a mask if they didn’t have one and given a personal hand sanitizer bottle and a sticker that said they were practicing social distancing. Space limitations were posted on bathrooms. Arrows on the floor directing people. And CDC guidelines were posted through the church.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.