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    Coronavirus: How churches are celebrating Easter Sunday?

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    Report compiled by Michael Hernandez from multiple sources listed 

    VENTURA–A Barna study on “The State of the Church in 2020” released April 1st states that 58 percent of the nation’s pastors say they plan to hold an Easter digital service (45 percent to livestream online and 13 percent to record an Easter message they will put online for their congregants).

    The same Barna survey of 180 Protestant Senior Pastors (all members of the Barna Group’s Church Panel) conducted the week of March 24-30 states that 10 percent of the pastors stated they would hold an outdoor service; another 5 percent they would find another unique way to convene; with 2 percent stating they would meet as usual.  At the time of the survey, 20 percent of the church pastors surveyed had no plan as of yet and 5 percent said they would postpone Easter church services.

    The Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. Barna is a Ventura-based private non-partisan, for profit organization under the umbrella of Issachar Companies.

    Meanwhile, according to LifeWay Research of Protestant pastors, posted on April 2nd: Nearly all U.S. churches had stopped gathering with few planning to meet on Easter Sunday.   The month of March showed a dramatic decline of church gathering as follows:  March 1st (99 percent of churches meeting); March 8th (95 percent meeting); March 15 (64 percent meeting); March 22 (11 percent meeting); and March 29 (7 percent meeting).

    (Editor’s Note:  The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America:  15 Days to Slow The Spread were released on Monday, March 16thfile:///C:/Users/herna/Downloads/451941734-White-House-coronavirus-guidelines.pdf.)

    “Gathering for worship as a local church is a fundamental expression of the body of Christ, but so are valuing life and loving others,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.  “As mitigation guidance first impacted large churches, the majority of churches with 200 or more attendees were not meeting by March 15, and only 1 percent of them met March 22 as guidance continued to shift.”

    LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based company, surveyed 400 pastors nationwide on March 30-31 stated that online video content has increased from 41 percent of the pastors providing video sermons or worship services to only 8 percent not providing any online video content.  The jump of those offering livestreaming worship services before the coronavirus pandemic was 22 percent of the churches.  However, 43 percent of the churches that don’t typically offer livestreaming services began to do so in March with another 27 percent who don’t livestream; posting a video sermon for their congregation to view at any time.

    Protestant pastors say they’ve seen church attendees help each other with tangible needs (87 percent) or meet coronavirus-related needs within the community (59 percent).  More than half (55 percent) say an attendee at their church has been able to share the gospel during this time, with 4 percent seeing someone make a commitment to follow Christ.  Many (44 percent) say an attendee has counseled someone crippled with fear.

    Three in four pastors (75 percent) say someone within their church has had their income impacted by reduced hours at work.  Around 2 in 5 (42 percent) say one of their church attendees has lost their job.  And 5 percent of pastors say they have someone at their church who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

    Pastors in the West (16 percent) and Northeast (13 percent) are more likely than those in the South (2 percent) or Midwest (1 percent) to say an attendee has been diagnosed with COVID-19.  Pastors in the Northeast (69 percent) are also most likely to say someone at the church has lost their job.

    As members have lost income, churches are struggling as a result.  Half of pastors (52 percent) say giving has decreased compared to earlier this year.  One in five (18 percent) say giving has continued at similar levels while 2 percent say it has increased.  Among those who say giving is down at their church, 60 percent say it has decreased by 25 percent or more, including 30 percent who say it has dropped by at least 50 percent.

    (Editor’s Note:  To view the entire 41-page report go to:   http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Pastors-Views-on-COVID19-Impact.pdf.)

    In Ventura County, Godspeak Pastor Rob McCoy (Newbury Park) generated national media attention when he resigned his Thousand Oaks City Council seat April 4th prior to taking a stand on Palm Sunday that the church is an essential service in the community.  The church hosted a public communion—ignoring city, county and state ordinances—while following federal and state public health guidelines.

    “I believe if we do not exercise our rights, they are lost,” said Pastor Rob McCoy on his livestream Palm Sunday service.  “I respect authority, but I cannot submit to an authority that states the Church is nonessential.   If the Church is nonessential, then Christ in nonessential.”  Later Palm Sunday during his regular 7 p.m. “Fireside Chat,”  Pastor McCoy reflected on the day’s activities by stating:  ““If cannabis stores and liquor stores can be essential;  the church is essential.”

    (Editor’s Note:  To see the full story on Pastor Rob McCoy’s Palm Sunday message see:

    https://www.citizensjournal.us/pastor-rob-mccoy-were-essential-communion-is-assembly-of-the-saints-palm-sunday-observes-jesus-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem/.)

    Earlier this month, KIDK, virtual channel 3 of Idaho Falls, Idaho reported on 12 States that recognized Churches as providing Essential Service.  California is not on the list: 

    Arizona:   Religious services are exempt as an essential activity because worship is protected under the first amendment of the Constitution.  However, the exemption specifies that the services are exempt as long as they “provide appropriate physical distancing to the extent feasible.”

    Colorado:  The state allows houses of worship to stay open as long as they are using an electronic platform or are practicing social distancing.  Services from religious leaders are also allowed for individuals in crisis or for end-of-life services.

    Delaware:  Along with social advocacy, business, professional, labor and political organizations, religious organizations are exempt.

    Florida:  The state recognizes attending a church, synagogue or house of worship as an essential activity along with caring for loved ones, pets and recreational activities that comply with social guidelines.

    Kentucky:  Kentucky makes an exemption for life-sustaining business and religious organizations that provide “food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life” for people disadvantaged or in need because of the pandemic.  However, the organization must social distance as much as possible, including ending in-person retail.

    Michigan:  Michigan also makes exceptions for operations, religious and secular, that provide necessities for those in need.  The state also does not subject places of worship to penalties for breaking orders when they are used for religious worship.

    New Mexico:  The state does not include congregations in a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship in the definition of “mass gatherings” that are barred.

    North Carolina:  Traveling to and from a place of worship is exempt from the executive order as “leaving the home and travel for essential activities.”

    Pennsylvania:  Religious institutions are exempt along with lifesaving and sustaining operating health care, childcare for employees of life-sustaining businesses, news media, law enforcement, emergency medical fire fighters and the federal government.

    Texas:  Religious services, if they cannot be conducted at home or remotely, can be conducted as long as they are consistent with guidelines from  the federal government and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    West Virginia:  Attending a place of worship is considered an essential activity in the state along with going to the grocery store or gas station, picking up a prescription or necessary medical care, checking on a relative, getting exercise, and working essential jobs.

    Wisconsin:  Religious facilities groups and gatherings must have fewer than 10 people in a room and must adhere to social distancing requirements.

    On April 2nd, the Pacific Justice Institute attorneys began to advise pastors on coronavirus gathering bans and stated that Texas and Ohio, had the most lenient order.  Ohio was still allowing for weddings and funerals (not one of the reported states by KIDK).  Generally, the blue states of the  West Coast are the strictest with red states such as Arkansas and Mississippi stating churches are essential and allow some freedom for churches to continue to operate as long as social distancing is observed and human contact is avoided.  Illinois is allowing some churches some freedom to gather. (Editor’s Note:  The last three states mentioned above were not reported by KIDK.) 

    Basically, the states have been free to develop provisions concerning:  which businesses are essential vs. unnecessary?  New York, Alaska, and Hawaii have some of the strictest regulations in place with fines ranging from $5,000-$25,000 and penalties up to  one-year for a Class A Misdemeanor.

    “If you violate the law (especially if people die), you are facing legal and liability issues,” said Brad Dacus.  Chief Counsel Kevin Snider stated:  “Churches can pay the price and the Body of Christ (the larger church) for what a few do.  You can become the focal point of anger (a “lightning rod”) if someone passes away.  This can be very damaging.  We need to be sensitive.”

    The Pacific Justice Institute (pji.org) is a non-profit legal defense organization with nine offices in the United  States in five different states and having hundreds of affiliates.  PJI specializes in cases dealing with religious freedom, parental rights and civil liberties.  To view legal memorandums by state (20 are currently listed) go to:

     https://www.pacificjustice.org/resources/for-churches/legal-insider-covid-19/.

    (Editor’s Note:  To see the Citizens Journal link on the PJI story posted April 2nd  go to:   https://www.citizensjournal.us/pacific-justice-institute-attorneys-advise-pastors-on-coronavirus-gathering-bans/.) 

    The Christian Post has reported that churches in some states have become creative in offering drive-in services for gathering of believers such as the 600 people in 300 cars attending a drive-in service hosted by Genoa Church of Westerville, Ohio.  However, the Christian Post reported today that officials in Kentucky, North Carolina and Mississippi have begun to block the meeting of such churches with a Virginia judge denying the ability of churches with more than 10 people to meet on Easter Sunday.

    Prison Fellowship, the ministry founded by the late Chuck Colson, is planning an online Easter Hope event for prisoners throughout the nation  via its new video platform portal called Floodlight.  James Ackerman, President of Prison Fellowship stated that California was the best example with all but four of its prisons having a video network platform that could utilize Floodlight.

    (Editor’s note:  To read President Donald J. Trump’s Easter blessing given on Good Friday and the prayer of Bishop Harry Jackson, Senior Pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD go to: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-easter-blessing-bishop-harry-jackson/).

     

    Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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