In an executive order issued Tuesday, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott listed religious services among the essential services that should continue amid the coronavirus epidemic
In the order, which addressed the “statewide continuity of essential services” during the pandemic, Abbott called for Texans “except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”
The governor referenced the Department of Homeland Security’s Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce Version 2.0 as the authority Texas would follow as to what essential services include.
The work areas listed included utilities, health care, food services, transportation and emergency services, among others.
However, Abbott added to the list “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.”
“In providing or obtaining essential services, people and businesses should follow the Guidelines from the President and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, implementing social distancing, and working from home if possible,” the governor wrote.
Yesterday I issued an executive order that goes into effect at midnight tonight that requires all Texans to stay home unless you’re performing an essential service or activity.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 1, 2020
“If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, they should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” his order said.
Most churches nationwide have not been gathering in person as they comply with the Trump administration’s guidance to avoid meeting in groups of more than 10 people.
Fritz Hager, executive pastor of Bible Bethel Church in Tyler, Texas, told The Western Journal nearly all the churches in his city stopped meeting in their buildings by mid-March.
Hager said Abbott had encouraged churches to go online but had given them flexibility.
“We had thought we were going to be OK for services … but with local confirmed cases we decided we would go ahead and close down,” Hager said.
Some congregations, including Connection Christian Church in Odessa, Texas, have opted for drive-in services in their building’s parking lot.
“Cars turned their radio dials to 100.5 F.M. and then the service started just like it would inside of the walls of the church,” KWES-TV in Midland reported.
The same thing is happening at other locations around the country.
Went to a small town drive-in church service today. pic.twitter.com/BK5KD1uUxg
— Nicolas Galindo (@ngalindophoto) March 22, 2020
John Leach — executive senior pastor of Life Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — told The Western Journal his church, like many larger congregations, has broadcast services online for years.
The congregation is using this time to grow its online presence.
To its regular online services, Life Center has added daily online devotionals and prayer focuses during the time of enforced physical separation.
“We’re using this as a chance to expand, not pull back,” Leach said.
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