A pastor who officiated a Maine wedding that led to three coronavirus deaths and 147 infections is continuing to preach in person.
Pastor Todd Bell welcomed worshippers into Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford on Sunday, where he announced during his sermon that he'd hired a high-profile lawyer to defend his congregation's religious rights, the Press Herald reported.
Bell gained notoriety in Sanford and surrounding communities after he officiated the August 7 wedding in Millinocket that fueled a large outbreak in central Maine.
Despite at least 10 members of his congregation testing positive for the virus in the wake of the wedding, Bell has insisted on holding in-person services at Calvary Baptist without masks or social distancing.
The pastor's staunch defiance of pandemic precautions has led some local organizations to suspend collaboration with the church's outreach programs.
Bell addressed the controversy in his sermon on Sunday, urging congregants to ignore critics and listen to him instead.
Pastor Todd Bell (pictured) has continued to hold in-person services at Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, Maine, even after he officiated a wedding that was linked to three coronavirus deaths and 147 infections
Bell welcomed worshippers into Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford (pictured) on Sunday
Sunday's service was broadcast via livestream on the church's website without video, so it was unclear how many people attended or whether they adhered to the state's mask mandate, social distancing guidelines and 50-person limit on indoor gatherings.
In the livestream, Bell was heard inviting attendees to greet the people around them, according to the Press Herald.
During his sermon, Bell said that the church had continued to hold full-time classes through its affiliate youth academy.
He described how God sent a 'perfect rainbow' as a sign of support for that decision at an orientation event for the school last week.
The pastor also described how people outside the church had told him to 'go back to North Carolina' - where he lived prior to moving to Maine in the 90s - after he was tied to the wedding outbreak.
'People think I'm a weirdo,' he said. 'They really do, and I'm glad I'm among friends here today.'
It's believed the church stopped streaming video of services after footage from previous services on August 26 and 30 showed congregants standing close together and singing without masks - sparking criticism in the community.
Bell is seen giving a sermon during an in-person service on August 30, where worshippers ignored the state's mask mandate and social distancing guidelines
Bell defended his insistence on holding in-person services in a radio address on Friday, revealing that he is seeking legal counsel from David Gibbs III, the founder, president and general counsel for the National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL).
The NCLL bills itself as 'a legal ministry that protects the rights of churches and Christian organizations nationwide'.
Bell did not specify what kind of work Gibbs would be doing for the church.
Gibbs confirmed to the Press Herald that he is working with Calvary Baptist but did not say if he was formally representing the church or what legal issues he might address.
On the NCLL website, Gibbs recommends that churches follow state and local regulations requiring that masks be worn during services.
He also notes that courts are likely to uphold governors' orders regarding the pandemic.
Bell is seeking legal counsel from David Gibbs III (pictured) of the National Center for Life and Liberty
Churches around the country have repeatedly fought against COVID-19 restrictions - which in some cases have banned them from holding in-person services altogether - arguing that the rules violate religious liberty.
In Maine, Governor Janet Mills' executive order limits indoor gatherings to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100 people, and requires that people keep physical distance at such gatherings.
Last week, Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew warned that the state has the authority to crack down on any activities that threaten public health, including religious services.
'We have those enforcement tools and, if needed, will use them,' Lambrew said.
'Six families from our church went there. We never expected to get COVID. Nobody expected to experience the things that happened because you went to a beautiful wedding like that.'
He said he had been on the receiving end of negative social media comments for officiating the wedding before quoting a Bible verse that reads: 'Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.'
'Men have reviled me,' he said.
Bell's Calvary Baptist Church went ahead and held indoor services on Sunday - just one day after CDC officials revealed they were investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 at his place of worship. Footage from a livestream of a service showed Bell giving a sermon
The wedding was held at the Tri-Town Baptist Church before about 65 people attended a crowded