The associate pastor of a California megachurch that defied a state order and instead opened for indoor services has died.
Bob Bryant of the Water of Life Community Church in Fontana in Southern California died Monday, just weeks after the evangelical church moved services inside, defying a California regulation that allows only outdoor services.
Bryant, 58, who was married and had four children, will be honored at a memorial service Monday inside the church, according to its website, again in defiance of health regulations.
Bryant became sick while on vacation last month and did not return to the church after he began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, a church spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times.
But he continued working “right up until” he “wasn’t feeling well,” then became “incredibly sick,” KABC-TV in Los Angles reported. Bryant, described as a “larger-than-life” pastor who has been with the church for 20 years, worked on providing financial assistance to church members in need.
Bryant suffered “aggressive pneumonia” and a heart attack, and was placed on a ventilator, according to a Facebook post by his wife, Lori Snider Bryant.
Dan Carroll, senior pastor of the 20,000-member Water of Life church, didn’t address the controversy over the church’s decision to ignore health regulations.
“It’s very painful,” Carroll said of Bryant’s death in an interview with KABC. “The whole COVID experience is very painful.”
Carroll was one of several church leaders who signed a letter in mid-May vowing to reopen his church regardless of state restrictions designed to help stem the tide of COVID-19 infections.
“We’re not here to be activists, we’re not here to be rebels; we’re here to be helpers,” Carroll said at a news conference at the time. He complained that “Californians of faith” felt as if they’d been “kicked to the curb” and “marginalized.”
A federal judge ruled May 5 that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had the right to ban church assemblies during the coronavirus outbreak.
As COVID-19 cases decreased, the state allowed churches to reopen with capacity caps in late May, but it again ended indoor services in mid-July in the hardest-hit counties.
The Water of Life church ignored the restrictions and reopened for indoor services in early November, requiring masks and social distancing, according to a Facebook post.
State health regulations ban indoor church services in the most restricted counties, where COVID-19 cases are the most rampant. San Bernardino County, where Water of Life is located, is in the most restricted category.
The county received a complaint about indoor services at Water of Life in mid-November and issued a letter Monday calling for the church to comply with regulations, the Times reported.
Bryant’s memorial service will be in the church’s Worship Center, according to the church website on Friday. It will also be streamed online. For those “joining us in person, social distancing will be practiced and face masks are required at all times while on campus,” the website noted.
All funerals in San Bernardino County, whether church-based or not, are only permitted outdoors, according to the state health order.
San Bernardino has among the highest rates of coronavirus infections among California’s 58 counties. On Friday, it became the 10th county in the nation to exceed 100,000 cases.
Everyone deserves accurate information about COVID-19. Support journalism without a paywall — and keep it free for everyone — by becoming a HuffPost member today.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter