By The Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) — A prominent Baltimore pastor said he would continue to hold two services each Sunday for up to 250 people, defying an executive order from the city’s mayor that extended stay-at-home directives.

“About 26 members, plus five police cars and about eight officers were in attendance,” said the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., senior pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in northeast Baltimore. “And three tv reporters and cameramen.”

He added that the Mayor was there with the police.

This was not the first time services were held during the quarantine caused by the coronavirus.

“I don’t know what the mayor’s trying to do,” Gwynn said. “He wants to have a knock-down about First Amendment rights? He’s the mayor, not the pastor of churches in the city.”

On Friday, Maryland businesses began a gradual reopening of retail and personal services as a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan about six weeks ago in response to the coronavirus ended, though the governor left flexibility for counties to decide how much they want to reopen. Baltimore is among the jurisdictions in the state that are not easing restrictions.

Under the governor’s stage-one reopening, churches and houses of worship can begin holding religious services at up to 50% capacity with outdoor services strongly encouraged.
Gwynn said his church has about 800 members.

His decision contrasts with that of most houses of worship in the area, which have decided to remain closed, including megachurches Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore and Grace Christian Fellowship in Timonium. Both are offering live-streamed services.

AFRO staff contributed to this article.