Houses of worship classified as essential, many taking action to assure safety comes first

Published: Apr. 3, 2020 at 9:14 PM EDT
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In the Governors executive order asking residents to limit their outside time he says religious services are essential.

Governor DeSantis says it’s their constitutional right, but is asking if they meet in person, to keep their distance.

Many congregations across the Suncoast are glad the Governor has expressed the importance of religious services especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, many religious leaders say they've closed their physical doors temporarily and are doing things differently to keep their communities connected.

Bayside Community Church switched to online worship services several weeks ago.

“If this was 30 years ago, 20 years ago, what we’re able to do now just wouldn’t be possible,” said the Creative Director at Bayside Community Church, Kristin Becnel.

They're just one of many houses of worship across the Suncoast that have or are going to make the transition to meeting virtually until further notice.

“Some have gone virtual, some have had people, but they’ve been spread out far enough. I mean you guys are spread out here in this press conference, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do a church service with people 10 feet apart. So, we definitely ask they to absolutely abide by the social distancing guidelines,” said Governor DeSantis during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Foundation Church in Englewood announced on their Facebook they'll be meeting in person for worship this Sunday because “they’re no longer slaves of fear.”

ABC 7 reached out to the Foundation Church leaders to inquire about how they’ll practice social distancing come Sunday at their service, but we haven’t heard back yet.

Others, like a priest in the Diocese of the Episcopal Church says he decided to make the shift to digital beginning this week because his parish is largely senior citizens.

"I think we all enjoy our first amendment liberties but with rights come responsibility. I think we need to do our part in making sure we don't overload our medical system and the doctors and nurses who are working very hard,” said Episcopal Diocese of southwest Florida, Rev. Matthew Grunfeld.

Leaders at Temple Emanu-El and First Baptist Church of Sarasota agree.

“We don’t want to be involved in transferring this virus to anybody so were trying to look out for each other and our greater community. Were still providing some services to people needing food,” said First Baptist Church of Sarasota Pastor William Hild.

“We have sought from the beginning to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. We recognize that congregating not only risks the lives of our own members but endangers are whole community and anyone we might come in contact with," said Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Brenner Glickman.

The Governors order allows in person services with social distance but many houses of worship say they have bigger responsibility.

“We would not want to do anything that would cause this virus to spread or create additional harm to our communities,” said Becnel.

Many houses of worship say technology is helping them spread their message while keeping their congregation safe and connected.

Whether it’s a Facebook live stream of their service, religious group meet-ups on Zoom, or a Skype to pray for each other, most houses of worship are adapting to what they say is their new temporary normal. The people I spoke to say they look forward to the day when they’ll be able to meet in a physical space again to worship.