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LODI, Calif. (KTXL) — The Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi is facing backlash after continuing to hold church services despite state and local orders banning public gatherings.

“We hold truly to the belief that the church should be meeting as much as possible,” Pastor Jon Duncan said.

Duncan said as many as 30 people attended Sunday’s service. He said gathering in person is essential to the Christian faith. 

“The church, the assembly of God is the people of God gathering together,” Duncan said. “Regularly gathering together for the teaching of God’s word, praying, worship, baptism, communion and fellowship.”

Duncan said last Wednesday, two Lodi police officers interrupted their evening service and gave him a verbal warning regarding Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said officers told him their actions would escalate if he continued to hold service including posting a written notice on the building and then physically shutting the church down if they continue to defy the order. 

“The choice ultimately belongs to the church of when you can meet, not the state,” Dean Broyles, the church’s attorney, told FOX40.

Broyles said he sent the City of Lodi and the Lodi Police Department a cease and desist letter citing their religious freedom had been violated.

“We simply believe that constitutional rights are not suspended by a virus,” Broyles said.

Duncan said out of concern for his congregation, the church has implemented safety measures such as hand-washing stations and spacing out seating. 

“The amount of room I would say our situating of our church service was probably going to guarantee less contact than you would have if you were going to Walmart or Safeway, CVS or Costco,” Duncan said.

He says he’s also encouraged anyone who may be sick or at risk to stay home. 

“We are not a church that takes the virus lightly nor do we have in our minds to act reckless,” Duncan said. “We believe that precautions need to be taken.”

Duncan tells FOX40 he plans to continue to hold services at his church because he feels religious institutions should be exempt from the governor’s order. 

“We are going to meet as often as we can meet and we do believe that this right is protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential,” Duncan said.

FOX40 reached out to the Lodi Police Department for comment but has not heard back.