In a press conference on May 22, President Donald Trump called on state governors to reopen houses of worship, deeming them essential during these unprecedented times in America.
“At my direction, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) is issuing guidance for communities of faith,” President Trump said, “I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential. I call upon governors to open right now.”
In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee announced in a press conference on May 27 that a number of restrictions would be lifted and houses of worship could move toward reopening to the public, following the CDC’s guidelines as they go.
For Faith Bible Church Pastor Timothy Atkins, this was an answer to his prayers.
“We’ve been calling our people, asking them to pray for our Governor, that the Lord would lead him and help him, help him be wise in these decisions,” Atkins said, “ We want to be supportive and submissive to his authority, but we’re also going to pray for him to see that opening up the churches is an important part of the community.”
The congregation at Faith Bible Church met in person for the first time since the initial state lockdown on houses of worship was placed in early March. Led by Pastor Atkins, the congregation met outside and remained distant. Atkins expressed the difference in meeting in-person versus virtually was major.
“Part of the blessing of our meeting together is being with people, caring for each other and being in fellowship. Having it online is not the same, especially for the pastor when he has to preach to an empty room” said Atkins.
Though Pierce county was in Phase one during the congregation’s first remeeting, county churches and Atkins alike now have the job of following the Phase two orders and regulations released on June 5.
According to Phase two guidelines, houses of worship can hold services indoors at either 25% of the capacity of the building or 50 total members, excluding church staff. Faith staff can also make in-home visits in places with five people or less. For Atkins and his church, this is no problem as they’re a small congregation compared to other houses of worship in the South Hill area.
Atkins said that the church can have all members return and still meet guidelines; it’s the other preparation that the church leader is worried about.
His concern is related to the guidelines houses of worship must abide by; 16 rules handed down by the CDC. Some rules include the standard social distancing of six feet and hand sanitizer stations scattered about the location, while others may feel unexpected or odd.
All houses of worship can’t have a choir perform and bathrooms must be monitored at all times with a maximum of two people allowed inside at one time. Houses of worship must also increase ventilation in their buildings as much as possible. Though these rules may add some restrictions on reopening, Atkins said his church will follow every rule presented by the CDC.
“The Bible would tell us that we’re not to seek our own interest, but the interest of others. We’re to have this humility mind that we focus on the needs of other people,” Atkins said, “So, if wearing a mask is appropriate…distancing and hand sanitizer is important, we’re going to abide by those guidelines.”
As far as President Trump’s urgent call to governors to reopen houses of worship, Atkins interpreted the President’s words differently than those who called the call-to-action a demand.
“I saw it more as implementing the CDC recommendations and guidelines, basically affirming that states should consider giving churches, synagogues and mosques the right to open their doors with restrictions,” Atkins said.
Whether or not President Trump’s orders were a demand, churches, synagogues and mosques across Pierce County will be able to open their doors to some or all of their followers as they follow CDC orders and restrictions by the state.
To learn more about the state’s plans and restrictions for houses of worship, visit https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/COVID19Phase1and2ReligiousAndFaithBasedGuidance.pdf
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