A Chicago-area megachurch—already under fire for telling staff to keep a pastor’s COVID-19 diagnosis secret and allegedly forcing them to work in unsafe conditions—now is requiring staff to sign a waiver releasing the church from liability if they get sick or die. This requirement came just days after one of the church’s pastors, Assistant Pastor Angel Escamilla, died from COVID-19 on March 29.
The church—Calvary Church of Naperville—sent the waiver to staff last week, which states: “I AM AWARE THAT DUE TO THE CURRENT COVID-19 PANDEMIC, THESE ACTIVITIES COULD BE HAZARDOUS IN EXPOSING MYSELF TO THE VIRUS CAUSING EXTREME ILLNESS AND POSSIBLY DEATH.” (All caps in original document)
The document further states that the participant is “VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATING” in these activities and agrees to assume “ANY AND ALL RISK” of illness, injury or death. It adds, “I forever release Calvary Church of Naperville and its directors, officers . . . and representatives” of any claims for any loss, including illness, injury or death..
On March 24, less than a week before Pastor Escamilla died, Calvary Lead Pastor Marty Sloan had instructed staff not to tell anyone that Escamilla had tested positive for COVID-19. Also, according to a staff member, Sloan required some employees to attend recording sessions with people who had contact with Escamilla and Escamilla’s sick family members from March 16—March 24.
An employee who was at those recording sessions has tested positive for COVID-19.
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Last week, Diane Bell, Calvary Naperville director of human resources sent an email to staff, including the new liability waiver. The email states that not only must staff sign the waiver, but any contractors and volunteers who are going to be on church premises must also sign.
“If you don’t sign the waiver, you are not allowed on our property!!!!” the email states.
The email from Bell and the liability waiver were sent to me from a recipient of Bell’s email, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. The person also asked that I not print the waiver in its entirety stating, “I have no doubt each employee was sent a slightly different version based upon (Calvary Naperville’s) capacity to identify whom of us might contact the press for advice if an entire original is published.”
The person who sent me Bell’s email is not the same person who sent me church emails more than a week ago, which instructed staff to stay silent about Pastor Escamilla’s COVID diagnosis.
Over the past two weeks, I have reached out numerous times to Calvary Naperville and Pastor Sloan for comment and updates, but no one has responded. On Friday, I again contacted Becky Lopez, Pastor Sloan’s executive assistant, and Sarah Dawes, associate executive director of communications at Calvary, specifically asking about the waiver. To date, no one has responded to those emails either.
Health Department Investigation?
Following my first article on Calvary Naperville, many asked questions about whether authorities—specifically, the DuPage County Health Department or Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH)—would investigate what happened at Calvary Naperville.
Last week, Chad Dawes, husband of Sarah Dawes, claimed on multiple platforms, including The Christian Post and Facebook, that IDPH had “audited” Calvary Naperville and found that the church had done nothing wrong.
I specifically asked Sarah Dawes about that claim and whether Calvary had documentation from the IDPH, but she did not respond.
However, on Saturday, Melaney Arnold, IDPH public information officer, told me: “IDPH does not regulate or inspect churches so I do not know about an audit report. Public health officials will consult with a church when there is a disease outbreak, but again, we do not regulate churches so I don’t know about finding a facility in compliance.”
I also reached out to the DuPage County Health Department last week. On April 1, Kevin Sur of the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, wrote in an email to me: “The DuPage County Health Department Medical Officer Dr. Rashmi Chugh has attempted to reach the Calvary Church of Naperville but has not heard back from them. At this time, we are still reaching out to them.”
However, on April 4, Don Bolger, public information officer with the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD), told me that DCHD had been in contact with the church since March 30, a day after Pastor Escamilla died.
When I asked about the nature of that contact and whether there had been an investigation, Bolger replied, “DCHD works with any affected organization to support their response, and provides recommendations based on guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”