A Louisiana pastor who apparently has no regard for the well-being of his congregants and community has vowed to press ahead with his plans to hold Easter services for 1,000 people, and some other churches around the country have similar risky plans in the works.
Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge is refusing to stop church service despite Louisiana’s ban on holding public gatherings. The same pastor was arrested and charged with six misdemeanors for holding services in March. On that occasion, hundreds of worshippers were brought to the church on 26 buses.
Spell told reporters: “They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes.” He also claimed that people have “nothing to fear,” even as 13,000 people in the state were infected with the virus and 477 people and counting had died from it at the time.
He also said that “true Christians do not mind dying,” which is exactly what could happen if even one person in the congregation is carrying the disease and spreads it to others who are present.
When asked why he doesn’t do the responsible thing and post videos of virtual services using apps like Zoom as many other churches are doing, he responded that he believes it “doesn’t work.”
Of course, streaming Easter services also means the collection plate will come up empty, which many people think may be a motivating factor in his insistence on holding in-person services.
Other churches are also challenging virus restrictions. A church in Statesboro, Georgia, that packed 30 people into a small building on Palm Sunday and drew a visit from state troopers says it will proceed with its usual Easter worship as well.
On Palm Sunday, troopers found that the congregation was not following social distancing, with many people hugging and shaking the pastor’s hand. The pastor was issued a warning and told to hold services in the parking lot, but when troopers returned that evening, they found him holding another indoor service where people were standing close together. He was cited on a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct.
At Houston’s Glorious Way Church, Reverend John Greiner, who had initially moved his services online in light of his county’s limit on big gatherings, has since said his congregation will have in-person services for Easter, saying: “We can’t do what God called us to do on livestream.”
The church rearranged its seating so people can keep six feet or more between them, reducing their capacity from 1,000 to around 100, and they will hold two services.
Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has exempted religious services from the stay-at-home order he issued this month. He said those who do attend such services must maintain social distancing.
Others are taking a more rational approach. Pope Francis will be celebrating Easter Mass in front of an empty St. Peter’s Basilica, while the traditional Easter sermon in the UK will be delivered by the Archbishop of Canterbury via video this year.
One Methodist reverend told the AP that religious gatherings are breeding grounds for the virus and called holding services in person “reckless.” He pointed out that loving our neighbors as ourselves does not include putting our neighbors’ lives in jeopardy.
Church services on one of the holiest days of the year are just one of many new challenges we’re facing in light of the coronavirus crisis, but sometimes it’s necessary for everyone to make some sacrifices for the greater good. If everyone could stay at home and take advantage of the many religious services being offered online and on TV, it could potentially save countless lives.
Sources for this article include: