As a result of a pastor experiencing arrest and criminal charges from local officials who were discriminating against houses of worship during COVID lockdowns last year, his church has not only thrived but flourished.
On March 30, 2020 in Florida, Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne, pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church, was the first pastor in the world to be arrested as a result of government restrictions on churches during COVID-19. Pastor Howard-Browne was arrested for holding a church service on March 29, regarding the Hillsborough County Executive Order that went into effect the previous on Friday, March 27, at 10:00 p.m. The two charges were second-degree misdemeanors that carried a maximum penalty of two months in jail and $500 fine.

Following this arrest, Liberty Counsel began preparing a federal lawsuit that was set to be filed on April 2. However, on April 1, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide executive order declaring that attendance at churches and houses of worship was an essential activity. He also preempted every local order to the contrary. On April 2, 2020, Hillsborough County officials met and voted to reverse its order from law. The charges against Pastor Howard-Browne were later dropped.

Since the date of Pastor Howard-Browne’s wrongful arrest on March 30, 2020, the church has reached people in 168 countries with the gospel through their broadcasts, had 50.8 million views and 186.2k new followers/subscribers. In addition to their Sunday services, they broadcast live to 250 million homes worldwide by television six nights a week. As a result, 6,913,464 people have embraced a relationship with Jesus Christ.

After Pastor Howard-Browne was arrested, he laid Astroturf on part of the parking lot the size of nearly two football fields. He began outdoor revival services on Pentecost (the last Sunday in May 2020) that have continued six nights a week for three and one-half hours each night. This is in addition to a four-hour Sunday morning worship service. Attendance at The River has grown so rapidly that the church has decided to permanently cover the portion of the parking lot used for these outdoor services.

Locally, during this one-year period since March 30, 2020, the church has fed over 13,000 families with its full-scale aquaponic garden center and tilapia fish farm. Church members harvest and package the food and deliver the boxes to needy families throughout the highest crime areas of Hillsborough County. Each week, The River provides free food to 900 people who attend the Sunday service. In addition, over $114,000 was invested into families in the inner city and twenty families and/or ministries were presented vehicles.

In one year, the church has transported 21,211 men, women, and children to church services and baptized more than 1,200 people. In the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, its six-day missions in Honduras and the local soul winning team saw over 2,000 people trust Jesus Christ for salvation. The River has also equipped thousands of people with educational opportunities which include scholarships to attend River University in Tampa.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Despite the discrimination and punishment from local officials, Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne has taken a courageous stand and not allowed government oppression to stop the incredible revival that is happening at The River at Tampa Bay Church. This church underscores what we have said from the beginning. The church is more than a podcast. Churches should be so essential that when the lights go out and the doors close, the community groans in its absence. This is certainly true of The River at Tampa Bay Church.”

Liberty Counsel

Author: Liberty Counsel