SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Christian News Network) — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker implied this week that it may be up to a year or more before some churches in the state will be permitted to fully reopen, depending on their size, according to guidance on public gatherings from scientists and epidemiologists.
A reporter with WBBM News radio had asked Pritzker on Wednesday during his daily COVID briefing if he could elaborate on when churches can have meetings with more than 50 people — if such would not be allowed until the final phase of the reopening plan.
“Can the governor provide more clarity to churches regarding holding services? Should they plan not to hold services larger than 50 people until their region has moved to phase five?” inquired Cisco Cotto, a graduate of Moody Theological Seminary, as read by an assistant who fielded questions submitted by the media.
Phase five is known as “Illinois Restored,” and according to Patch.com, “could be a long way off.”
“Well, you know that in phase three, there can be gatherings — church gatherings — of 10 or fewer. In phase four, 50 or fewer. So that’s the guidance that’s been given to me,” Pritzker replied. “I’m not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending.”
The state just entered phase two last week, and phase three will begin no earlier than May 30. Phase four does not have a designated date but will most likely be determined by the perceived success of phase three.
Phase five is even further down the road, most likely whenever there is a vaccine available to the public, Patch.com reports. According to some experts, that could be in 12 to 18 months.
“Here’s the truth, and I don’t like it any more than you do,” Pritzker acknowledged during the press conference. “Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment … the option of returning to normalcy doesn’t exist. We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished.”
Conversely, this week, 3,000 churches in California advised of their intention to open their doors on May 31, the calendar date of the Christian Pentecost.
“As ministers of the Gospel, we have complied with the orders of governing bodies to cease meeting in-person as has been our practice for nearly 2000 years since the first Day of Pentecost. We respect the governing authorities and their role in public safety. However, the governing authorities have suspended our meetings indefinitely, refusing to provide a date upon which we can lawfully commence our practice of worshiping God together in our houses of worship,” reads a “Declaration of Essentiality for Churches” posted online.
“While we are thankful to the governing authorities for the significant efforts made to protect the public from COVID-19, the remaining threat of COVID-19 is outweighed by the severe restrictions upon the free exercise of our religion that we deem ‘essential,'” it reads. “We are committed to public safety and will follow reasonable guidelines established and applied to similarly situated organizations.”
A number of pastors held a joint press conference on Thursday to outline their views.
“We have a pastor in the south, in Chula Vista, feeding hungry people a mile long in cars, socially distancing,” Jim Doman, the founder of Church United, remarked, according to Fox News. “How can the Church not be essential?
“It’s the heart of Jesus to love and care for all people. The heart of God supersedes government.”