Worcester Church To Hold Public Service Again Sunday, Against Governor’s Order

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/05/02/worcester-church-to-hold-public-service-again-sunday-against-governors-order/

A Worcester pastor who held a public church service last weekend contrary to the governor’s executive order is planning to hold another one tomorrow.

“We’re having church on Sunday,” Pastor Kris Casey told New Boston Post.

The announcement sets up a possible showdown between the church and government officials who have warned him not to do it again.

Casey said he is taking extraordinary precautions to try to assure the health and safety of people who come to the service, scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, May 3.

He said the church spent $2,000 to have a professional cleaning service clean the church Friday, May 1, including fogging and wiping with disinfectants. Three men worked for about four to five hours on the interior of the building, he said.

“So we’re taking drastic measures to make sure that we have the cleanest church. Why? Because we care about people. We care about our community,” Pastor Casey said in a telephone interview Friday night.

He said he has talked to every member of his congregation, and that he has encouraged people who are sick or who have preexisting health conditions not to come on Sunday.

He said he is confident that his church will be safer than supermarkets and big box stores, both of which have remained open during the coronavirus emergency.

He also plans to take precautions before the service, which he said will go beyond guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He plans to have everyone’s temperature taken at the entrance, as he did last weekend. Security will be on hand. Individuals and family groups will be escorted to a pew, which will be at least two pews removed from other people, thus maintaining at least six feet of social distancing, he said.

The church ordinarily accommodates 300 to 325 people, but the capacity will be significantly less on Sunday because of the distancing. Admittance will be on a first-come, first-served basis, he said, except that church members will get precedence.

“Masks will be mandatory for anybody coming in. Gloves will be mandatory for anybody coming in. We’re asking everybody that comes in to have no skin exposed, except their face,” Pastor Casey said. “… This is higher than what the CDC is asking for. … We’re taking extreme measures to make sure that all of the guidelines that they’re asking for will be exceeded and met. Whatever the CDC says, we’re actually going above and beyond that.”

State and local officials have argued that the restrictions on public gatherings are necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus, saying that even people who appear healthy can spread the virus to vulnerable people who have underlying conditions.

Earlier this week Worcester city officials expressed dismay that Casey had conducted a regular church service Sunday, April 26 – which Casey says drew 56 people.

“This is really unfortunate, that one faith-based group would choose to not follow the governor’s order, as every other faith-based group in the city of Worcester and every social organization and every business,” Worcester city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said during a coronavirus press conference Monday, April 27. “All of the rest of the community have made so much sacrifice to comply with the order because they understand that we’re in this together. This is a public health emergency. These orders are put in place to help protect all of us, prevent the further spread of this disease.”

As of Friday, May 1, the city of Worcester had 2,190 confirmed cases of coronavirus, out of a population of about 185,000. The city’s hospitals have seen 107 deaths related to coronavirus, according to the city’s figures.

Casey last weekend initially said he planned to have a second regular church service on Wednesday, April 29 open to all comers. But he reconsidered, and limited it to less than 10 people, thus complying with the governor’s order. He declined to make a substantive comment to reporters who gathered outside the church Wednesday night, citing the advice of his lawyers.

But Casey has decided to go ahead this weekend with his original plans.

Asked why, Casey made two arguments, one spiritual and one about maintaining the rights of Americans.

As in many churches, Casey has regularly conducted sparsely attended services online since the governor ordered strict limits on public gatherings on March 23. The church has a YouTube channel, which it has used during the emergency and plans to use tomorrow as well.

But he says the approach is not working. Conducting services online is not only not the same as having a congregation in person, Casey said, it’s defeating the purpose of the church.

“When I can’t have people come to my church, I can’t see people get saved. I can’t see them get baptized. It’s harder to give out the Word,” Casey said. “So I’ve got to conclude that when we don’t have church, the Devil is happy.”

Worcester’s city manager earlier this week noted that many religious groups have taken to other means of worship.

“Many faith groups and other organizations have gotten very creative about ways to stay connected, to practice their faith – whether it be through online means, or Zoom calls, people have become very creative with their ways of connecting and finding fellowship with each other but still respecting and adhering to the order to maintain social distance,” Augustus said during the press conference Monday, April 27. “So I’m hopeful that thoughtful reflection on, you know, doing the right thing in complying with this order will take place with this particular organization.”

Yet creativity is not the problem, the pastor said.

“They say get creative? We were creative. We preached online. But I see the people that God called me to falling away. They’re falling away because they’re losing that touch,” Casey said. “As a pastor, it’s exceedingly difficult not to have one-on-one contact with people.”

Since New Boston Post broke the story of the first open church service on Sunday, April 26, Casey said he has gotten about 200 calls, most of them positive.

“People have called and have said, ‘I wish my rabbi, I wish my priest, I wish my bishop had taken a stand’,” Casey said. “… And if no one takes a stand, all of this is going to be eroded away.”

Some opponents have spoken passionately against what he is doing. Pastor Casey mentioned a nurse at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester who, he said, cussed him out over the telephone.

“You know what I heard in her voice besides anger? She was afraid. And we’ve had other people call and get really mad. But you know what I hear? They’re afraid,” Casey said. “But for each one person who says that, there are at least two or three that are calling and saying, ‘Thank you for doing the right thing.’ “

He acknowledges the fears and says they are valid.

“I am very concerned for my community. And I don’t take this decision lightly to have church. And I know that there have been very many people who have been angry. And I think that they’re angry because of the unknown about the virus,” Casey said.

Some of the fear, he said, may stem from a spiritual void.

“Scripture says if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can do great things with it,” Casey said. “A lot of people, I think have a fear of the coronavirus, because they’re afraid of dying. And they’re afraid of dying because they don’t know where they’re going when they die. And as a pastor, I have the cure. The cure is Jesus.”

As for the legal conflict, Casey said the dispute is not of his choosing.

“I want to make this crystal clear:  I didn’t ask to be pulled into the political aspect of this whole thing, but I was pulled in because of the politician who made this decision, who made this rule,” Casey said. “Remember, what the governor said is not law. He gave out an order, but there’s no law behind it. There’s no authority.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has based his coronavirus executive orders on emergency powers granted him in state law in the case of disaster. Mandatory church closings have not been an issue in past disasters since the law was passed in 1950.

Baker’s executive order of March 23 prohibits “Gatherings of more than 10 people,” including “community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based or sporting events, concerts, conferences, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals, weddings, funerals … in any confined indoor or outdoor space.” It does not apply to “an unenclosed, outdoor space such as a park, athletic field, or parking lot.”

Baker talked about the Worcester church during a coronavirus press conference earlier this week.

The governor said Worcester officials are doing the right thing by enforcing his order, but he said limiting access to churches is one of the most dismaying things he has had to do, and he did not criticize or threaten the pastor.

He defended the order by pointing to other countries that did not initially restrict religious services and subsequently saw a spike in coronavirus cases. He did not address Casey’s constitutional argument concerning freedom of religion.

Augustus, the Worcester city manager, this week argued that the governor’s order is legal and constitutional.

“It is an order that the governor has issued that applies to every faith equally. It doesn’t single out one particular faith. It doesn’t single out faith-based institutions and not business organizations, or social organizations. It applies equally to everyone,” Augustus said during the press conference Monday, April 27.

The city manager also said the order makes sense.

“And we’re in this together and we’re making good progress. We’re not seeing the numbers that we might have otherwise seen had these restrictions not been put in place,” Augustus said. “So it really is important for all of us to do what we can, because the consequences may not only be for your parishioners, but they may be for the wider community – for other vulnerable people in our community.”

Neither state not local officials have said publicly what they would do if the church holds a second public service.

New Boston Post contacted the Worcester mayor’s office, the Worcester city manager’s office, and the governor’s press office on the morning of Saturday, May 2. None could immediately be reached for comment.

Casey has said he understands that the governor is trying to save lives through his orders, but he said the restriction on church services doesn’t make sense in light of other activities people are still allowed to do, including shopping in liquor stores.

During the interview Friday night, Pastor Casey referred several times to the rights secured by America’s Founding Fathers. He mentioned a quotation of disputed origin that has been attributed to Samuel Adams, to the effect that “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”

Casey said the sentiment reflects what he’s hoping to accomplish:

“I as a pastor may not be in the majority. But if as a pastor I can stand up and inspire people to speak the Gospel, find hope, find comfort, find peace, find the salvation of Jesus Christ, then the brush fire will be in the hearts of the people all over the Commonwealth, and we will experience the great awakening that America so desperately needs.”