Churches are reacting to decision by Governor Kim Reynolds to lift the coronavirus limit of holding public gatherings to 10 or fewer people to allow churches to hold worship services.
The governor has limited the opening of businesses to 77 counties that have lower cases of COVID-19, but is allowing churches in all 99 counties to hold services beginning Friday. She was asked Tuesday about that decision.
“I think it comes down to constitutional liberties and the First Amendment. So, we are going to continue to work with our churches across the state,” Reynolds said. “We would continue to encourage them to offer online services — especially for our most vulnerable Iowans.”
Reynolds says she is confident the church leaders will do the right thing in deciding whether to restart worship services in their buildings. “We are also encouraging them — and they will — to practice social distancing. To think about different measures that they can put in place. The Department of Public Health has put together guidelines that they should follow — but they’ll make sure that they are practicing safe worship,” Reynolds said.
She says worshipers also have a responsibility. “Iowans also need to be responsible — so if you are sick you need to stay home — continue to utilize the online services. We also know that social distancing works, so we should incorporate that into opening up the services,” Reynolds says.
The four Catholic bishops of Iowa announced that public Masses will continue to be suspended for now In light of the expectation that positive cases of COVID-19 will peak in Iowa in the next few weeks.
A group of denominational leaders issued a statement of recommendation urging all religions to refrain from in-person religious gatherings. Reverend Ian McMullen of the Presbyterian Church signed on to the statement, and says they also feel it is not yet time to bring people together for services.
“Our first call is to love our neighbor. And most of our congregations are made up of people who are in a high-risk group — 65 and older, underlying conditions — so that is why we have put forth this recommendation,” he says. McMullen hopes all religious leaders will feel the same way.
“I appreciate that the governor has left it up to us. I know that she has the best intentions when she gave us the freedom to do that and I appreciate that,” according to McMullen. “So, with that freedom, we have made the decision to love our neighbors by physically staying apart.”
McMullen says the coronavirus pandemic has brought a powerful urgency to the religious community. “We had this glorious moment when our world was upended and we were scrambling to share the gospel news with the world around us — as opposed to living in our regular rut of weekly worship,” McMullen says. ” We were scrambling for our Facebook passwords and figuring out how to work webcams, and caring for those people who could not leave their home or had become sick. It was, and is, a time of great transition in the church.”
McMullen says the pandemic impacts everyone and no denomination is left out. “We’ve been in conversation with folks in mosques and synagogues and churches and meeting house all over the country. And they all say the same thing — this has heightened their awareness of what is really important in our faith,” McMullen says.
He says they’ve learned again it is not about the building where you gather — it is about the message. “Love your neighbor, feed the hungry. Those are all things that are much more important than stained glass windows and brick and mortar,” McMullen says.
More than 20 leaders of various denominations signed onto the recommendation.