The lead pastor of Calvary Church of Naperville—a megachurch in the Chicago suburbs with an attendance around 6,000— this week told his staff to keep secret news that an assistant pastor had tested positive for COVID-19. Calvary Lead Pastor Martyn Sloan also instructed his staff not to tell anyone that the assistant pastor’s wife and son, who’s also a pastor at the church, were having symptoms.
This is according to two emails leaked to me earlier this week by a staff member who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.
Also, despite knowing that staff and volunteers had been exposed to the sick pastor and family members who live with him, Pastor Sloan continued to record online services with multiple staff, the sick pastor’s family members, and volunteers.
Pastor Sloan has since informed his church about the pastor with COVID-19, as well as another staff member who tested positive for coronavirus. However, Sloan did this only after I emailed him the leaked emails and pressed him about why he had not informed his church about the confirmed cases.
The pastor at Calvary who tested positive for COVID-19 is Pastor Angel Escamilla, assistant pastor of Calvary Español. Also showing symptoms is his wife, Becky Escamilla, and son, Michael Escamilla, an associate pastor at Calvary.
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The staff member with COVID-19 is a videographer who was required to attend recording sessions with the Escamillas and dozens of others.
On Tuesday of this week, church staff received an email from the Escamilla family, informing them that Angel Escamilla had tested positive for COVID-19 and pneumonia and was “seriously ill.” The email also said that Becky and Michael Escamilla “have had symptoms but are improving.”
The email added, “For our privacy and for the peace of mind of our church family, we and the leadership team ask that this news be kept in confidence within our staff.”[pullquote]”(W)e and the leadership team ask that this news be kept in confidence within our staff.”[/pullquote]
On Tuesday evening, Sloan sent a follow-up email to church staff through his executive assistant, Becky Lopez. In it, Sloan said, “If pressed for information (about the Escamillas’ health) you should confidently reply with the following: ‘Please understand that if I knew anything about anyone’s medical condition I would not be at liberty to speak’ and then stop talking.”
Recordings Continue Despite Known Exposure to Sick Pastors & Family
According to the anonymous staff member, Pastor Sloan first knew that Angel Escamilla was sick on March 15. Yet for nine days, Sloan continued recording and livestreaming services with members of Escamilla’s family and those who had been exposed to the Escamillas, both staff and volunteers.
Even on Tuesday evening, after learning that Angel Escamilla had tested positive for COVID-19 and that his son and wife were sick, Sloan required staff who had been in recent contact with the Escamillas to record a service, which included a volunteer.
I asked Sloan specifically about these charges in an email I sent to him at 12:50 p.m. on Friday. This was in response to an email from Sloan’s assistant, saying that Sloan would respond to emailed questions.
Sloan still has not responded to my questions. However, at 2:26 p.m. on Friday, Sloan sent an email to the congregation, informing them for the first time that Angel Escamilla and another staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the anonymous staff member, Angel Escamilla had attended Calvary’s weekend service on March 15, which was livestreamed online and included all staff pastors, several support staff, volunteers, and several church attenders. The staff member said Angel Escamilla left during the 9 a.m. service because he felt sick, but not before coming into close contact with about 10 pastors.
The staff member said that on March 17, Pastor Sloan required several staff to attend a recording session of a prayer service with Michael Escamilla and his wife, Lynelle Escamilla, who both live with Angel and Becky Escamilla. The staff member said that when several staff objected due to concerns about infection, Sloan asked them if they wanted to remain “essential,” because if not, that could change.[pullquote]The staff member said that when several staff objected due to concerns about infection, Sloan asked them if they wanted to remain “essential,” because if not, that could change.[/pullquote]
The videographer who taped the March 17 recording has now tested positive for COVID-19.
The service, which was posted online, also included about a dozen volunteers. (The anonymous staff member said that when the church failed to inform the volunteers of their likely exposure to someone with coronavirus, some staff told them.)
Recordings continued on March 21, 22, and 23 with various staff members and a volunteer percussionist.
On the evening of March 24, hours after learning about Angel Escamilla’s positive test result, the church recorded another online service. On the recording are three pastors who were present at the March 17 recording session with Michael and Lynelle Escamilla, as well as the volunteer percussionist. Also on the recording is Pastor Sloan, who, according to the volunteer, videotaped his sermon just prior to the service.
On March 25, Pastor Sloan, apparently undaunted by news of his sick pastors and other staff, posted a video to Facebook. In it, he announces that weekend services will livestream as before at 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Pastor Sloan Appears Lighthearted; Flies to Florida
Though Pastor Sloan had contact with the Escamillas, and others recently exposed to the Escamillas, Sloan and his son, Landon Sloan, took a flight to Tampa International Airport on March 25. The two then took a “transport” to Southeastern University, where they packed up everything in Landon’s dorm and drove home.
This is revealed in a Facebook live video Sloan posted on March 26 while driving back from Florida with his son Landon Sloan. In the video, Sloan appears lighthearted and jokingly asks for prayer because he’s having to endure listening to country music.
The video is one of several Facebook live videos Sloan posted on the 26th. I asked Sloan about the appropriateness of the videos in the email I sent on Friday, March 27. All the Facebook live videos were deleted soon afterwards.
My first email to Sloan was on Thursday evening at 6:38 p.m. This email included the leaked emails about keeping the news about Angel Escamilla’s COVID-19 diagnosis quiet, and requested a call back. Sloan did not answer the email.
However, at 6:53 p.m., Sloan sent an email to “All Staff” through his assistant Becky Lopez, telling staff not to visit the church campus next week. Sloan added, “The care and concern for you and your family is a high priority.”
On Friday, March 27, at 9:19 a.m., I sent Sloan another email with additional questions. I also informed Sloan that I was aware that a videographer had recently tested positive for COVID-19.
At 11:45 a.m. on Friday, Sarah Dawes, associate executive director of communications at Calvary, sent an email to 33 church staff members, informing them that the videographer had tested positive for COVID-19. She added, “You are on this email because (videographer) traced his steps to a point of contact with you in the week prior to his symptoms.”
On Friday evening, Pastor Sloan posted a video to Facebook, urging church to pray for Angel Escamilla’s healing.
Today around noon, Calvary posted a FB message, encouraging people to tune in for weekend services online, noting that Pastor Sloan will be preaching on the book of Psalms.
UPDATE: On Monday, March 30, Pastor Angel Escamilla, who was 68, went to be with the Lord. On Facebook, Calvary Español posted: “Our Pastor Angel fought the good battle and his career is over. Today he was greeted in heaven ‘Well done good and faithful servant Enter into the presence of your Lord…’ Angel has passed into eternity, and is where we all want to be one day… in the eternal presence with God.”
UPDATE 2: Received this email from Kevin Sur, external affairs officer for Dupage Co. Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management , on April 1 at 5:28 p.m.: “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.”
UPDATE 3: Calvary Naperville now is requiring staff, contractors, and volunteers to sign a waiver, releasing the church of responsibility if they get sick or die. To read new story, click here.
Below are the emails sent to Calvary Naperville staff on Tuesday:
Below is the email Pastor Sloan sent to his congregation about 90 minutes after my email. Included was an excerpt of the email from the Escamilla Family: