Suggestions tailored to specific church practices were reportedly included in earlier CDC guidelines. Examples included wearing gloves while distributing Holy Communion, encouraging congregants to give offerings electronically, temporarily limiting the use of shared hymnals and other worship materials, and suspending choirs. Buffet-style meals and water fountains also were mentioned as items to avoid during the outbreak, out of precaution.
Making Safety a Priority
Because churchgoers tend to be older than the general population—and thus likely more at-risk for contracting COVID-19—experts warn that churches should proceed with care. Tara Smith, an epidemiology professor in Ohio, says many worshipers are in a “group that is really vulnerable to this virus,” yet that’s the group for which guidelines hadn’t yet been published. Smith describes to the Washington Post how she and a grad student have been helping a church in Cleveland dissect “every aspect of the church service” to ensure congregants’ safety.
On his website, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addresses the balance between safety and religious freedom. Quarantine-related orders from government officials must not target churches, he writes, but instead must be applicable “all across the society.” Not every infringement on religious liberty is necessarily intended, Mohler reminds Christians, but “that also doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed and corrected.” He recommends that churches take particular care not be “become a spreader” of the virus, as has reportedly happened at some services and events.
The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, published a church-reopening checklist earlier this month through the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, its public-policy arm. The first item is to “identify reliable, local sources of information,” which includes making choices “based on objective data, not subjective impressions.”
President Trump has consulted with leaders of various faith traditions during the pandemic. He and “all Americans want to see their churches safely open again,” says White House spokesman Judd Deere. “Not only is it good for the community, it’s their right under the Constitution to worship freely without government intrusion. The Trump administration will always protect that right and continue to partner with states to ensure congregations are properly protected as restrictions are responsibly eased.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said the Justice Department “will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government…singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”
During a brief press conference Friday morning, Trump again addressed the issue of reopening church doors. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend,” he said. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. America, we need more prayer, not less.”