Sunday, April 05, 2020

Coronavirus: Local churches considered essential, can continue to hold in-person services. (SAR)

Thanks to Bishop Estevez and local religious leaders for protecting public health. No thanks to narcissistic preacher at God's Way Baptist Church, who must take his inspiration from East Tennessee cults that handle snakes and take poison on instructions from God. What heretical hypocritical blasphemy. (And who's harassing County Commission Vice Chairman Jeb Smith for having eleven people, nine family members, at this church? De minimis non curat lex.

Tennessee's Supreme Court provided a remedy for the snake handling cult. State ex rel. Swann v. Pack, 527 S.W.2d. 99 (Tenn. 1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 954 (1976). But Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS pulled the rug out from under a Sheriff who tried to enforce CDC guidelines against another misguided church, freeing the religious to infect each other at Palm Sunday, Easter or Passover services.

Bishop Estevez and the other religious leaders called this one correctly. Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS shows he's misguided and easily led.

Coronavirus: Local churches considered essential, can continue to hold in-person services
By Christen Kelley
Posted Apr 3, 2020 at 3:50 PM
St. Augustine Record
While most local churches have switched to livestreaming and even drive-up services in order to meet coronavirus guidelines, others are still open to the public for worship services.

And following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Safer-at-Home order Wednesday, it appears they will be allowed to continue doing so.

While the exact mandates of the order are still being reviewed, it’s clear that “attending religious services conducted within churches, synagogues or houses of worship” is considered an essential activity.

States across the country that have issued Safer-at-Home orders also differ in whether they consider churches to be essential to the public. Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York all allow worshippers to gather as long as they abide by some form of social distancing, while Oregon and Maryland’s orders do not include attending religious services as essential activities.

It’s unclear how DeSantis intends for local agencies to enforce the order. Some cities in Florida, including Tampa, already have slightly stricter mandates in place when it comes to public gatherings, and churches aren’t exempt.

Tampa Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested Monday after he continued to host large congregations despite warnings from officials, the Associated Press reported. The story made headlines across the country, leading Howard-Browne to apologize and close his megachurch.

But a second executive order DeSantis signed Wednesday to clarify the Safer-at-Home order would supersede all local mandates, including those preventing religious gatherings. It’s unclear how that second order will impact county decisions to close beaches locally.

St. Johns County has not issued any mandates that would make it illegal to gather, but most churches closed to the public voluntarily after the White House pushed recommendations against groups larger than 10. However, some are still holding services indoors, causing concern for other residents hoping to prevent the spread.

God’s Way Baptist Church, founded by St. Johns County Commissioner Jeb Smith, reportedly held its regular Sunday service indoors this past weekend. Several people reached out to The Record to express their concerns.

Smith said the service on Sunday had only 11 attendees, and nine of them were his blood relatives.

“It was not a massive amount of people together and we were practicing social distancing together in the facility,” Smith told The Record. “We are concerned about folks — their spiritual and physical health — and at this point we’ve talked about meeting outside but with the majority of us family, I mean we all had dinner together the night before, so we felt like it was fine to do it inside.”

Smith said following DeSantis’ order they will consider holding services outside, but it’s clear that they’re following the statewide guidelines.

Anchor Faith Church in St. Augustine is another that has refused to close its doors during the pandemic. The church is posting videos of their sermons on YouTube for any members who want to worship from home, but the parking lot still had several cars in on Sunday.

Pastor Earl Glisson addressed the issue during a sermon posted to YouTube on March 26.

“I can tell you confidently that we’ve never shut down, even during hurricanes,” Glisson said, going on to explain that their church is “absolutely essential.”

“There are going to be some ministries that God’s going to want to be open. And we’re one of those ministries,” Glisson said. “We don’t do it just because we want to be different, that’s not the point. We do it because we’re led by the spirit of God.”

In the video, audience members are seated staggered, but there are at least 10 people. On Wednesday, the church announced on its Facebook page that it would be open, drawing multiple comments calling for the church to close.

Meanwhile, most local churches have closed their doors to the public and are offering some version of digital worship services. Even the Diocese of St. Augustine has closed all its churches, a sign of the unprecedented nature of the pandemic.

“The church’s tradition has always said that the common good is more important than fulfilling an obligation,” said Rev. Thomas Willis of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. “God in his mercy understands what we are going through right now.”

Willis said his church has been adapting to the online services because the parishioners understand the need to practice social distancing right now. The church’s Facebook livestream of services usually gets around 100 views live and up to 400 views after it’s posted.

“The parishioners as much as the priest and deacons are missing the rituals as they would normally be celebrating the start of Holy Week,” Willis said. “But the most heartwarming part of all of this is that people are responding, commenting on the Facebook livestream, and I’ve even got emails just saying ‘thank you for doing this.’”

With Easter coming up, many St. Augustinians will be missing out on their normal church experience. The diocese is working to conduct an entirely virtual Holy Week celebration, and they’re getting creative.

Trinity Parish in St. Augustine is organizing a car parade on Palm Sunday at 10 a.m. People will be able to drive by the church, wave to the pastors without stopping. It’s just one of the ways churches are hoping to bring some hope to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Sunday before Bishop Estevez suspended Masses, I had spoken to Masses here in the Cathedral, and I said that we fall back on our faith,” Willis said. “I hope that’s what people are going to lean on and go to during these difficult days.”

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