Some Pa. churches resisting the need to close their doors to stop the coronavirus

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Pastor Cosgrove offers words of hope. St. John Lutheran Church had planned a drive-in worship service, when a shelter-in-place order canceled. York Daily Record

Churches across the United States are making changes in order to follow guidelines put in place to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19. Most churches have resorted to going online to stream their services

The CDC recommends people avoid gatherings of 10 or more through at least April 30, and Pennsylvania has ordered residents to stay at home, except for life-sustaining activities, through that time. 

Some churches, however, are still gathering, despite the guidelines. Earlier this week, a pastor in Florida was arrested for violating a stay-at-home order that was put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.  

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities Monday afternoon in Hernando County, USA TODAY reported. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. 

Tony Spell, a pastor of a Louisiana megachurch, was also arrested for holding Sunday services for a large group of people in spite of a statewide coronavirus large gathering ban. He was charged with six counts of violating the Louisiana governor’s ban on large gatherings.

As of now, there have not been any reports of pastors or religious leaders that have been arrested in Pennsylvania. 

A church in Pittsburgh plans to hold a big Easter service 

In Pittsburgh, a pastor reportedly plans to organize an outdoor “Woodstock”-like service in protest of the stay-at-home orders.

According to a Fox News report, evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth said he will hold an outdoor Easter blowout service, despite Pastor Howard-Boone being arrested in Florida. 

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“I’m gonna announce it, we’re gonna hold an outdoor Easter blowout service. Not online. A national gathering. You come from all over, like Woodstock. And we’re gonna gather and lift up Jesus Christ,” Shuttlesworth told Fox News. 

Shuttelsworth is the pastor at Revival Today, and there have not been any updates on specifics of his Easter service.

Erie church just stopped its services

A church in Erie drew concerns for continuing to hold in-person services as recently as this week. The Victory Christian Center’s Church council voted on Wednesday evening, April 3, to temporarily suspend worship services at the Erie church.

Bishop Dwane Brock said that the church will suspend its Wednesday night worship service and its two Sunday morning services at this time, the Erie Times-News reported.

Brock had a telephone conference on Wednesday with David Gibbons, UPMC Hamot’s president, and Jim Donnelly, UPMC Hamot’s chief nursing officer and chief quality officer, to discuss concerns surrounding COVID-19. 

Brock is a member of the UPMC Hamot board of directors and said the information from Gibbons and Donnelly helped him and his church council determine their best option was to suspend worship services.

More: Churches finding ways to hold services in light of coronavirus

In the article, Brock said that in-person worship services have been vital to helping people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also talked about how having livestreams and posting services online is not a feasible option to in-person services.

“A large portion of our congregation and a large portion of other congregations don’t have access to social media at home,” Brock told the Times-News. “If they’re not online, do we just forget about them? We’re doing the very best we can for them and for folks (for whom) the church is their life and their only socialization.”

Brock said the church council will re-evaluate in two or three weeks whether to hold in-person worship services, though the state’s recommendation has been to avoid public gatherings through April 30. 

What does the Pa. Department of Health say?

Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson Nate Wardle emphasized that churches are not affected by the stay-at-home orders, but still should practice safe guidelines.

“There are stay-at-home orders now statewide, and other policies that are in place to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus,” he said. “We also encourage religious leaders to exercise their discretion in order to mitigate the spread of the illness.”

Wardle said the department recognizes the ability for churches to meet, and they have concerns about large gatherings and the potential for church services to spread the disease across people in a small area.

Coronavirus in Pa.: What stay-at-home orders mean for state’s residents

In the event of a pastor or religious leader getting arrested, Wardle said that he doesn’t see that happening in Pennsylvania.

“We certainly don’t want any large events, but we also recognize the right to

practice religion freely,” he said.  

The Erie Times-News contributed to this report. 

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