OKC metro pastors placed under quarantine after coronavirus exposure
Two high-profile leaders of an Oklahoma-based megachurch — one of the largest churches in the country — are under quarantine after they attended an overseas conference where a scheduled guest speaker was diagnosed with the coronavirus called COVID-19.
The Rev. Craig Groeschel, founding senior pastor of Edmond-based Life.Church, and the Rev. Bobby Gruenewald, Life.Church pastor-innovation leader, attended the Willow Creek Deutschland Leitungskongress 2020 Feb. 27-29 in Karlsruhe, Germany. Groeschel was a featured speaker at the event which drew about 7,400 people.
When the two men, both Edmond residents, were headed back to Oklahoma from the leadership conference, they learned that a planned speaker for the event had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Wednesday, Gruenewald shared the following statement.
"Pastor Craig and I remain at home and healthy. While en route home from Germany, we were made aware of the situation at the conference. We immediately notified health authorities and have followed every recommendation. Out of an abundance of caution, we have been isolated in our homes the entire time, even limited from interaction with our families. We have no symptoms, and someone is checking on us regularly," Gruenewald wrote.
"In the meantime, we're making the most of this time to focus on ministry work and look forward to getting back to our normal routines."
Neither man has shown symptoms of COVID-19. In a video emailed to his church members, Groeschel said that both him and Gruenewald are in good health.
In an online statement, officials with the conference in Germany explained that they ended the event early due to the diagnosis of one of the scheduled speakers.
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"This was done as a precaution and for security reasons. According to health authorities, there was never any danger to the participants. However, we decided to cancel this event as a preventive measure in order to give all participants the opportunity to come home in peace and quiet," conference leaders said in their statement.Conference officials said the person was never present during the event.
"In the run-up to the congress, he had personal contact with some senior people who are now in quarantine for security reasons, but according to the health authority were not contagious until the end of the congress," the event officials said.
Pastor shared news with church family
Groeschel broke the news to Life.Church members late Wednesday afternoon in one of his "Behind the Scenes" video chats that he shares regularly with his church family via email. In his email, the pastor hinted that the video possibly included unexpected information.
"You might notice that the background for this month's video update looks a little different. Watch this video to find out why," Groeschel said in his email.
In the video, entitled "Something Different This Month," Groeschel discussed the response to a recent sermon series and his related book before explaining why he taped his video from his home instead of the church's Edmond headquarters at 4600 E Second.
"If it looks like I'm shooting out of my bedroom, the reason is it's because I'm shooting out of my bedroom," he said.
Groeschel said he and Gruenewald were already on a plane headed home when they learned that someone at the conference had tested positive for COVID-19. He said they shared this news with a flight attendant and met with health authorities once they landed.
"We decided to isolate ourselves for the full 14 days, no contact with anyone whatsoever," Groeschel said.
In his video, he made sure people knew that he and Gruenewald would not be at church to allay any concerns about exposing others to the coronavirus. Groeschel typically preaches live at Edmond Life.Church located in the same complex as the church's headquarters. His taped messages are shown at the other Life.Church locations each Saturday and Sunday.
"We will not be at church, don't worry. We're going to stay completely away. We're trying to do this out of an abundance of caution to ensure that everyone is safe," Groeschel said.
In the video, he did not specifically say when the quarantine period will be completed but he hinted that it would be over soon.
In the meantime, Groeschel told church members that he has had "a lot of time to pray" and work on sermons. He asked that church members pray for him because he missed his family.
Pastors make headlines
The Oklahoma pastors' situation made headlines around the world as news about their exposure to the coronavirus began circulating on Wednesday initially on social media. Interest in the situation wasn't surprising because of global concerns about the coronavirus outbreak and the high visibility of Life.Church as one of the largest churches in the U.S. Groeschel's status as the church's founder, a prolific author and a sought-after speaker around the globe also helped elevated the story.
Gruenewald is also well known as the founder of the popular YouVersion Bible App, a free app that has been downloaded millions of times by people all over the world.
Over the years, the church founded by Groeschel in 1996, has amassed a congregation of about 90,000 members spread out over 34 physical locations in 10 states — Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee and Texas. A 35th location is expected to open in April in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition, Life.Church has an online presence at Life.Church Online.