Response to Spectrum News Story 

News Story by Spectrum News

The Real Story

A response to the Spectrum News article against Pastor Wayne Weaver and Oasis Tabernacle

On August 18, 2020, 11:30am a news story was published by 23-year-old Spectrum News health writer, Pete Grieve. It alleged that a coronavirus super spreader event had taken place at Oasis Tabernacle on June 14, 2020 and implied that 91 were infected, and that it was due to the negligence and defiance of the senior Pastor of Oasis Tabernacle, Wayne Weaver. His goal in writing this was to connect us to a graphic used by Governor Mike DeWine in a news conference of a religious community who had 91 cases as a result of an exposure event. We write this in response to the grossly inaccurate and malicious story to correct the record for the general public and those interested.

First, a bit of back story: Like the rest of the country during this crisis, it has been very difficult to navigate the continually changing protocols and health orders. We at Oasis Tabernacle have always endeavored to follow them as best we can in the spirit of the orders for the health and safety of our attendees. From the initial shutdown in Ohio in March of 2020, we canceled in-person services and switched to “online services only” for several months. Even though our governor never ordered religious communities to cease operations nor barred us from having in-person events. We did this, as many other area churches did, as a precaution since the severity of the virus was not well understood. We were told at that point that the shutdowns would be short term. They were not, and as the weeks turned into months, our leadership team was under pressure by our members to resume our weekly services, if we could do so safely. 

After many weeks and months of waiting, our leadership Elder team which consists of Senior Pastor Wayne Weaver, Pastor Steve Yoder, Pastor Dalen Schlabach and Pastor Burnell Beachy, made the decision to re-open and have in-person services. This was done at the same time that many local area churches resumed in-person services, as well as,stores and restaurants were allowed to re-open. This action was taken after a group decision by our leadership team, contrary to the story. Our first service back was at the end of May/first of June. They consulted with other area churches and health experts how to conduct a safe service with a safe environment.

A plan was made and we re-opened. We took special efforts to separate the elderly from the young and did our best to space people out. This was also before masks were mandated in Ohio. Our first service back went well and without incident, people had been instructed ahead of time to not attend if they had been exposed or in contact with anyone with any symptoms of any sickness, and also were asked to refrain from coming if anyone in their families had any type of symptoms. We also suggested no shaking of hands and to clean hands frequently with hand washing or using hand sanitizer spread throughout the building. We also encouraged those who have pre-existing conditions or were not comfortable to attend, to watch the services from at home. 

Prior to Sunday June 14, unknown to us, someone had been exposed at work and was starting to show mild symptoms. Unsure of what it was, he remained home, but his wife and children decided to attend even though our policy had stated against coming in a situation like this. The family members were not symptomatic at the time. The following day, the leadership team found out about the incident, and requested the person to get tested immediately to check and see if we had an exposure event. He tested positive, and the leadership team quickly informed everyone at the church that we may have been exposed. People who attended were  asked by the Health Dept. to take necessary steps to slow the spread. As the week progressed some members began showing symptoms. Our attendees were from several counties, but the majority live in Holmes County. (Our church used to be located near Millersburg which is in Holmes County.) Local health departments got involved and helped to do contact tracing to minimize the spread. We also found out that we were not the first nor the only church to have had a COVID outbreak at that time. Especially in Holmes County, but also in Wayne and Tuscarawas Counties there had been other church outbreaks. In addition to church related events, the community was experiencing additional outbreaks because of funerals and weddings. COVID-19 spreader events were not considered rare in our area.

The Governor has not disclosed who the graphic was about. Nor has any official stated that we were the case in question. If it was us, the information presented is grossly inaccurate. We did our due diligence at the time to document and organize the contacts concerning the spread. At one point, it was said, that an eighth of the people who attended Oasis had COVID-19.

Even though some families did get sick, it was not the majority of the church. Health officials suggested that big indoor spaces and commercial HVAC systems can make a spreader event worse because the contents of the room get circulated. This fact continues to be made evident around the world with active spread in large buildings. We took immediate action and installed antibacterial/viral equipment in our HVAC system that kills and destroys viruses and bacteria to reduce future risks in general. 

As some of the attendees were sick, the leadership team kept the church informed with our church messaging system. As different people were having different symptoms and were using different methods to control them, they suggested things that had worked for some to help alleviate some of the symptoms including popsicles for dry throats and Tylenol for fevers and body aches. In the article this was portrayed in a cultish disgusting-like way as if our pastor, being the “shepherd” came around “treating” people with popsicles and medicine. What actually happened is that our pastor arranged to have things delivered to people who couldn’t get to stores because of being in quarantine. The reporter also misquotes a statement made in a later service by our pastor in defense of his trying to consolidate differences within the congregation over the mask debate, in which he stated that as the Bible states, his calling is like that of a "shepherd" or in our day what is titled "pastor”. Our pastor cares deeply for the people, and he is willing to help if people need help and also that he wants people to care for each other and respect each other’s wishes and to comply with the government the best we can.  

Following the exposure event, we postponed in-person services for several weeks. The decision was made to resume services but with even stricter guidelines. People were now questioned before entering the sanctuary to confirm no one had been sick, or around anyone who was sick, etc. 

In the first service back, three of the pastors shared their thoughts as to how this affected them. In these remarks, Pastor Wayne, who had tested positive said, “It wasn’t as bad as a flu for me.” While Pastor Steve, who had also gotten it, said it was one of the worst things he had, even though he wasn’t hospitalized. Pastor Dalen who had also gotten it, said his experience was a roller coaster and that it was difficult to know what to expect. At times it felt really bad and at other times not bad at all. These comments were leveraged and misrepresented in the article to try to paint Pastor Wayne as a defiant type in opposition with the others, when in reality he was just giving his experience which fortunately was very mild. 

Several months later, the Governor used a special graphic in his press conference to warn religious institutions to be extra careful. He also mentioned that the data came from an event in Tuscarawas County. As a result, Pete Grieve decided he wanted to write a story on it. He made phone calls and tried to pinpoint which church the governor was speaking about. As one of the churches in the area that had cases, he decided to focus on us primarily based on some rumors he heard through people he contacted and attempted to shoehorn us into being the “religious group” depicted by the graphic.  He further proceeded to spin us as a defiant and uncaring congregation who felt this whole thing is a farce. He was not interested in the truth nor in the facts, he simply wanted a juicy story for his readers. 

He tried calling numerous members of the church. He and his team scoured over hours of service footage trying to find incriminating statements, quotes and references. In frustration over the members of Oasis not wanting to speak to a reporter, he decided to contact the businesses owned by our pastors (they all own their own companies). He called several and tried to pry for more information related to the event. After finally speaking with Pastor Wayne, he seemingly became frustrated and irritated since Pastor Wayne could not confirm if the governor’s chart was referencing our church. Based on information depicted on it, our pastors felt it was not speaking of or referencing our church at all, based on what we knew.

He proceeded to stalk our church and church members and even spoke to an underage child prying for information. He called other people in the area including mayors, health officials, and other area church leaders asking them to confirm whether they thought it was our church or not. None of them had any real first-person knowledge of what happened at our church. A few thought it might have been, but not based on any official report. He dug through social media and our livestreams of past services hoping to find something incriminating. He also used personal information of our members on social media as leverage in an attempt to bait our congregants into making statements he could use to further his story. 

Our pastor has no interest in becoming a news story. Like many pastors, he shares in the frustrations over having to keep churches closed while still needing to look after church members and keep people connected. This type of pandemic has not happened in over a century, and it is not easy to navigate as a faith leader. 

This young reporter, who is not from the area, and grew up out-of-state, and only recently moved to Ohio truly does not understand our local community and its persecuted Anabaptist heritage. He never came to our area to research, using only online tools and phone calls and never confirming his information in-person. Having not done an official interview, the writer painted our pastor, (who has never taken a paycheck from the church in 34 years of ministry, choosing rather to meet his own needs with small businesses), as a defiant leader who disregards the safety of his employees, congregation, and community.

This is a completely false narrative/story. After the article was published, the pastor made contact with the young reporter and shared his disbelief over the errors and lies in the story. The reporter responded by saying, “Makes a good story, doesn’t it?” in a sinister tone. Even though we feel violated, misrepresented, and defamed, we choose to take the high road in being pragmatic and presenting our truth with a Christian non-defiant attitude.

The young reporter called our Senior Pastor Wayne defiant in the headline, because our Pastor said over the pulpit, and has maintained for many years that he, as a faith leader, is willing to give his life even if he is arrested for his faith in Jesus Christ and for the Gospel's sake. This is a clear teaching in the Bible. However, the reporter, who likely does not understand Christian Theology, felt this was spoken in defiance of recent orders and mandates, and contacted local authorities and asked if they would arrest him over the incident, to which they responded with a unified, no.

We feel the reason that our senior pastor’s businesses were mentioned by name in this story, was as a final way to attack his personal character and reputation in the community. Pastor Wayne has always been self-supporting, and is the Founding Pastor of Oasis Tabernacle—founded over 35 years ago. He has never accepted any salary from the church and through his businesses, which he all founded, has donated extensively to community events and needs. 

We hope this statement helps clarify what happened and how we have been misrepresented.

Oasis Tabernacle
August 23, 2020