PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As President Donald Trump deems houses of worship essential and calls on governors to allow them to reopen, faith-based leaders in the Delaware Valley are clashing on how to move forward during the Memorial Day weekend.
“I am in no rush to put the health of my members at risk,” said Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor at Mother Bethel AME Church in Society Hill.
Tyler says Sunday service will continue to be livestreamed.
“I have too many AME family in New York and North Jersey who have had congregations with multiple deaths of members with COVID-19 to let me know how serious this is. So if it’s at the end of the summer, great. If it’s at the end of next year, great, but we will reopen when it is absolutely safe,” Tyler stated.
Still, the move left many church leaders excited.
“Looking at it strictly from a spiritual point of view, I couldn’t be more thrilled. I think that this probably could have come earlier,” said Bethel Church pastor Curt Kinney.
Kinney says they’ve already made plans to have a virtual service this Sunday but hopes to reopen the church for in-person services next Sunday.
“Our plan is to have a very abbreviated service and leave about an hour between each service to give time for our team to go through the entire building and do our best to sanitize the common areas,” Kinney said.
Kinney says he will continue to advise older members to worship virtually.
Curtis Smith is the pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church in Browns Mills, New Jersey. Though he’s eager to reopen, he doesn’t plan on it until June 7.
“I’m much more comfortable with June the 7th, on the first Sunday of June. Most of my parishioners are elderly, and I have to be concerned as the pastor for their health and their wellbeing,” Smith said.“I have performed several funerals in the past couple of months with people who were positive with coronavirus. I just don’t want to go down that road again.”
Also in South Jersey, faith-based leaders at Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin say it’s their constitutional right to gather, as a house of worship should be considered essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They’re planning to defy Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order and reopen their doors to their congregants on Sunday.
“We’re going to do this as safely as possible, so people coming to our church will have a touchless temperature taken. Anybody 100.4 and above will not be able to come into the church building. Everybody coming into the church building will wear masks,” said Solid Rock Baptist Church Pastor Charles Clark III.
Clark says the sanctuary seats up to 1,000 people but will only allow about a quarter of capacity, spaced six feet apart.
He says about 300 members have already registered to attend.
Clark says, after 250 attendees meet capacity for the sanctuary, the remainder will watch from the gym.
Gov. Murphy has said it may still be at least several weeks before indoor activities may resume.
CBS3’s Chantee Lans and Kimberly Davis contributed to this report.