260 Clerics Tell Massachusetts Governor That Church Is Essential and It’s Time To Re-Open

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/05/07/260-clerics-tell-massachusetts-governor-that-church-is-essential-and-its-time-to-re-open/

Two hundred sixty Christian religious leaders have signed a letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker expressing their discontent with his order prohibiting religious gatherings exceeding 10 people.

The letter — released Thursday, May 7 — tells the governor and his administration that church is essential and argues that churches should be included in the state’s first reopening phase later this month. The letter also expresses concern that there is no representation of churches on the governor’s new Reopening Advisory Board.

“We are fully prepared to exercise extraordinary care and precaution to protect the health of our members and our broader communities,” the letter states, in part. “Loving our neighbors is part of who we are as a church. We are capable of following the guidelines for social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, just as other businesses Massachusetts has deemed essential. We are able to take the same precautions that their staff and customers have taken.”

The clerics say they are “grieved” that marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, and abortion clinics remain open while nearly every church in the state has not been able to hold a regular service since March 23, when Governor Baker issued an executive order limiting most public gatherings to 10 people.

The clerics also say they don’t want to be left out of the conversation the Reopening Advisory Board is having about easing out of the coronavirus emergency.

“We note with disappointment that, despite the 8,000 churches in the Bay State and the millions who worship in and are served by them, they have no representation on that board,” the letter states. “We therefore hope that you will hear directly from us now.”

Among the clerics’ top priorities is that the governor allow churches to re-open sooner rather than later. The first re-openings are expected to begin Monday, May 18, though it’s unclear which activities will make the list.

“When the phased reopening of our Commonwealth begins, the reopening of our churches must be in the first phase,” the letter states. “It is upsetting that, unlike roughly half the states across our nation, churches in Massachusetts were not deemed ‘essential’ at the outset, but this must come to an end. This is consistent with the federal guidelines for a phased reopening, where in phase one, ‘places of worship can operate under strict physical distancing protocols.’ “

The federal guidelines mentioned in the letter are in a White House document called “Opening Up America Again.”

Most of the signers of the letter are evangelical Protestant pastors. They include religious leaders from the Lutheran, Baptist, Congregational, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God traditions. Six are Roman Catholic priests, including five from the Archdiocese of Boston.

Pastor James Hopkins of First Lutheran Church of Boston is the first name to appear.

He told New Boston Post church is vital at a time when millions of Americans are out of work and both substance abuse and domestic violence are on the rise.

“A general Christian anthropology understands that we exist as a body and soul together,” Hopkins said in a telephone interview. “It’s impossible to care for an entire person without providing spiritual nourishment. It’s a personal need. We’re equally essential.”

Hopkins also told New Boston Post that readers of the letter should understand that church leaders care about physical well-being as much as anybody else.

“We just don’t want people to jump to any weird conclusions that the church doesn’t care about people’s bodies and safety or think that there’s some sort of immunity to the virus that exists in sacred space,” Pastor Hopkins said. “They can expect churches to act as responsible citizens that will take reasonable actions to protect their people.”

One church that has been taking such precautions is Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester. The past two Sundays, Pastor Kris Casey has held services exceeding 10 people, and he held a third on Wednesday, May 6. All three went against the governor’s executive order.

At the service on Sunday, May 3, church staff checked the temperature of everyone at the door, and masks and gloves were mandatory — and the church offered them to people who did not have them. Only families were allowed to sit together, and everyone else was required to sit at least six feet away from others, which dropped the church’s capacity from 300 to a little more than 40.

Pastor Casey was served a citation on Monday, May 4 by Worcester’s police chief with a civil penalty of $300, under the governor’s March 23 executive order. Subsequent offenses carry the possibility of a $500 fine and even imprisonment, according to guidelines issued by the state.

Pastor Hopkins told New Boston Post he wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the situation in Worcester to comment on it.

Pastor Nick White of Victory Baptist Church in Dedham, who also signed the letter, told New Boston Post he supports Casey, whose church has provided financial support for White’s church. White has also preached at Casey’s church in the past.

Pastor White plans to hold two services of 10 or fewer people this Sunday even though he has received a cease-and-desist letter from the town’s board of health. He credited Casey for inspiring other churches to re-open. 

“I think Pastor Kris Casey has played a major role in paving the way for other Massachusetts pastors to re-open again,” Pastor White said.